By KIM CHANDLER for the Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday extended a state order requiring face coverings in public for another month and expanded it to include students in grade 2 and above in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 as schools reopen.
Ivey’s action, announced during a Capitol news conference, added more than four weeks to an earlier order that had been set to expire on Friday. Hospital officials had pushed for an extension, saying the state’s intensive care units are nearly full because of the new coronavirus.
The mandate, which she announced on July 15, requires anyone older than 6 to wear a mask when in public and within 6 feet (2 meters) of someone who is not a relative. It makes exceptions for people who have certain medical conditions, are exercising or performing certain types of jobs.
State Health Officer Scott Harris said previously that it would take two, but preferably three weeks, to judge if the mandate was making a difference in transmission rates.
Hospital officials had urged Ivey to extend the order.
“We feel strongly that Governor Ivey should extend it for several more weeks,” Dr. Ricardo Maldonado with the East Alabama Medical Center said in a statement the hospital posted on Facebook. “Our COVID-19 census now is dangerously high.”
Maldonado said hospitals need to see their patient counts fall before the mask mandate is lifted.
Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said the association also supports an extension.
He said the state in recent days has seen a slight decrease in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, but he noted that as of Tuesday, 90% of the state’s intensive care beds were full, the highest number since the pandemic began.
“We have to continue until the disease is at a very low level and 1,100 (cases per day) is not a low level,” Williamson said. “If you do away with the mask order, more people get infected and we head right back up.”