Gov. Kay Ivey, expressing alarm over the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Alabama, issued a statewide mask order Wednesday, effective at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Appearing at a news conference with state health officer Scott Harris, Ivey said people will be required to wear masks in all indoor spaces open to the public, on vehicles operated by transportation services and in outdoor spaces where 10 or more people are gathered.
“Overnight last night we had 2,141 new cases,” she said. “That brings our total to 58,270 cases, and we’ve had 1,183 deaths.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 47 deaths Wednesday in its report for the past 24 hours. That was the most deaths in a single day since the pandemic began.
The new statewide order supersedes local mask orders and ordinances. It includes a $500 penalty for not wearing a mask in public when interacting within six feet of others.
But, Ivey said, the penalty is not the goal.
“The goal is to slow down the spread of the virus,” she said. “We are not asking the sheriff or police to seek out people not wearing a mask, but to emphasize and inform people to wear a mask.”
The mask requirement is an update to the governor’s Safer at Home order, which is scheduled to expire July 31 at 5 p.m.
Ivey said the state will be looking at the impact of the mask order in two weeks to see how the number of COVID cases in Alabama is trending .
“Now they are going in the wrong direction,” she said.
She said there is concern about how Alabama hospitals will handle the rising number of cases and whether they will have enough space for all COVID patients.
“More the reason to slow this spread down,” she said. “It is simply the right thing to do.”
Harris said he realizes the order may be unpopular.
“People get upset when they are told to do anything. But this order is for the people we know and care about and for strangers,” he said.
Jefferson, Madison and Mobile counties were the hotspots for the disease in Wednesday’s daily report by the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Jefferson County reported 263 new cases and two deaths over 24 hours to raise its totals to 7,449 cases and 176 deaths. Both numbers are the highest in the state.
Mobile County listed 143 cases and 10 deaths and now has a total of 5,349 confirmed cases and 157 deaths.
Madison County reported 172 new cases for a total of 2,901 and three deaths for a total of 12.
The number of deaths statewide has jumped by 151 in the past week to a total of 1,183 since the pandemic began in mid-March.
U.S. Senator Doug Jones praised Ivey’s decision to enact the a statewide mask order.
“Gov. Ivey did the right thing today by enacting a statewide mask policy. Unlike her counterparts in other Deep South states, Gov. Ivey is clearly following the advice of health care professionals,” Jones said.
“Many Alabama communities in COVID-19 hotspots have already taken this step, which will help limit the spread of this virus and reduce the strain on our struggling hospitals and health care workers, and it just makes sense to do it on a statewide basis,” he said.