By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday extended a statewide mask mandate until Jan. 22 — but declined to order additional restrictions — as Alabama experiences a record-setting surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Ivey announced the six-week extension during a news conference at the Alabama Capitol. The order, which requires face coverings to be worn in public when interacting within 6 feet with people outside your household, had been scheduled to expire Friday.
The Republican governor said while vaccine availability is “just around the corner” the state has to weather the upcoming months.
“These are some of our darkest days since COVID-19 became a part of our daily conversations and the rising number of new cases has put a strain on our healthcare system unlike any time in recent memory,” Ivey said.
Ivey urged people to wear masks and wash their hands to try to limit the spread of the virus. The drawling 76-year-old governor took a mild swipe at social media commenters who sometimes call her by a nickname for a southern grandmother while criticizing her COVID orders.
“I’m not trying to be Governor Mee-Maw as some on social media have called me. I’m just trying to urge you to use the common sense the good Lord gave each of us to be smart and considerate of others,” Ivey said.
Ivey declined to issue any new restrictions. Much of California is under a sweeping new lockdown in an attempt to slow the rise of virus cases.
The Republican governor issued a stay-home order at the beginning of the pandemic, but has resisted any additional shutdowns since that expired. Ivey said Wednesday that she has not seriously considered another lockdown.
Alabama this week hit a record for the number of people in state hospitals with COVID-19 with more than 2,000 people hospitalized. The state also saw a record number in daily cases with more than 3,000 new infections being reported daily.
State Health Officer Scott Harris said the state is looking at “pretty dark days for the foreseeable future.”
Since the pandemic began, the state health department has reported more than 280,000 confirmed and probable virus cases and nearly 4,000 confirmed and probable virus deaths in Alabama.
“If you had a 747 crash every month for the last 10 months, that’s about how many people we’ve lost in our state,” Harris said.
While the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms in most people, it can be deadly for the elderly and people with other, serious health problems.
Harris said he expects Alabama will receive its first vaccine allotment next week. The initial shipment is going to 15 hospitals.
Front line health workers and nursing home residents will receive the first immunizations, Harris said.
“It’s likely to be early summer before we have enough for the average Alabamian to receive their vaccine,” Harris said.
Harris said he expects the first shipment to contain just under 41,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and they will all be the first dose of the total two-dose vaccination process for the Pfizer product.
But even all of Alabama’s 300,000 healthcare workers won’t be able to get a vaccine that first week it is made available, Harris said.
“We fully recognize that there are some people at the very top of our priority list, front line workers, who are deserving and they are not going to get the vaccine on the first day,” Harris said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time before we have enough to go around.”
Priority in vaccination will be given to those who are on the very front lines and face the most risk in their healthcare work.
Vaccinations will start in nursing homes at the end of the first week. Harris said he hopes to get all of the phase one top priority group vaccinated within a few weeks, but it all depends on the number of doses given to Alabama.
Harris said the state will not require anyone to take the vaccine and doubts that any nursing home would require a resident to take it either.
Harris expects the Moderna vaccine to be approved in the next few weeks and it will be easier to distribute, especially to more rural areas of the state, since the cold chain requirements aren’t as stringent.
Harris also said that the amount of hospital capacity currently available right now is concerning to him but more so the number of dwindling healthcare workers available to treat COVID-19 patients.
“We need people to not get infected because we know about 10% of people that get infected are going to end up in a hospital, that’s a number we’ve seen all along,” Harris said.