Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey today said she is extending the current Safer at Home order through the end of July but stopped short of ordering a statewide face-covering order, deeming it “next to impossible to enforce” at the state level in the fight against COVID-19.
Instead, Ivey said there will be no major changes to the current Safer at Home order that was set to expire at 5 p.m. July 3 but will now be in effect until 5 p.m. July 31.
That order allows virtually all businesses and organizations to remain open with limited capacity and precautions like social distancing and hygiene practices in place. Individuals are urged to stay at home and only venture out to businesses when necessary. Hospitals and nursing homes still must restrict visitations.
“Let me urge you in the strongest manner I can to incorporate COVID-19 cautions into your daily routine,” Ivey said. “Y’all, personal responsibility means it’s everyone’s responsibility.”
The extension of the Safer at Home order comes as cases of COVID-19 have surged in Alabama.
As of noon on June 30, there were 37,536 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state with another 509 probable cases. There were 926 confirmed deaths with another 24 probable.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said just under 11% of tests are now coming back positive, higher than it has ever been since the pandemic reached Alabama. He said that means transmission is continuing and that more than 10,000 cases, or 28% of all cases, have been confirmed in the past two weeks.
Another concern is that hospitalization numbers are higher.
The governor and Harris both urged the public to wear face coverings when in public. The state released a series of public service announcements urging the wearing of masks.
“Please continue to use face coverings when you go out in public,” Harris said. “The reason to do that is that you care about other people. We know that face coverings aren’t perfect and they don’t prevent everything, but we do know that they limit your chance of giving the infection to someone else if you have it and, as we know, many people who can spread the disease don’t even know that they’re infected.”
Ivey said ordering Alabamians to do the right thing shouldn’t be necessary.
“When you’re in public, for goodness sake, wear a mask,” she said. “You know, Dr. Harris and I could order you to wear a mask but it would be next to impossible to enforce. But, you know, you shouldn’t have to order somebody to do what is just in your own best interest and, better, the folks that you care about – your family, friends and neighbors.”
Jefferson County has an order in place requiring face coverings indoors at public places and outdoors in certain situations. Other local governments are considering similar requirements.
Ivey said she doesn’t want to return to the more restrictive Stay at Home order that shut down the state economy in the early days of the pandemic.
“I firmly believe that you cannot have a life without a strong livelihood and having a shutdown for months on end was never my intent,” she said. “It was also unsustainable.”
However, if the spike in cases that has taken place since Memorial Day is replicated after the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, Ivey said more drastic measures may be necessary.
“If we continue going in the wrong direction and our hospitals are not able to handle the capacity, then we reserve the right to come back and reverse course,” she said.
State Rep. Dexter Grimsley, who lost a sister to COVID-19, also urged people to treat the disease seriously.
“It makes more sense to me to wear a mask,” he said. “I do know that any level of protection is better than no level of protection.”
Grimsley said it’s not too hard to wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance if it means keeping others healthy.
“We the people of Alabama have a choice and it’s not as a group of people, it is an individual choice that we make today going forward until we can find a way to get out of this battle that we find ourselves in,” he said.
Greenville Mayor Dexter McClendon said he didn’t get to see his mother on her 90th birthday or on Mother’s Day but that she survived COVID-19, as did he and his wife.
“I’m here to tell you today this is not rocket science,” he said. “Pay attention. Maybe in March you didn’t get it, but we’re … almost in July and if you can’t figure this out by now, then I’ll be honest with you there’s something wrong.”
Harris said the protective measures are most important to the elderly and people with chronic health problems. He said senior citizens make up more than 75% of COVID-19 deaths in the state even though they only make up about 17% of cases.
A joint statement from the Alabama Hospital Association, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and the Alabama Nursing Home Association said the organizations are pleased the Safer at Home order is extended because, “Things are not getting better. They are getting worse.”
The statement said the best way to show appreciation to the hardworking health care workers and staff is to avoid unnecessary trips, wear a mask in public, wash hands frequently and maintain social distancing.
“We would also urge local governments in counties with rising numbers of cases to consider mask ordinances, and we thank those leaders who have already taken action to require masking,” the statement said.