Mask Mandate Continues, but Other COVID Restrictions Easing, Governor Announces

Gov. Kay Ivey extended the state’s masking requirement on March 4, 2021. (Source: Governor’s Office, Hal Yeager)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey Thursday extended a statewide mandate requiring residents to wear face masks as protection from the coronavirus in public places and businesses until after Easter at 5 p.m. She also eased restrictions on restaurants and bars, hospitals and nursing homes.

Ivey declared this would be the last mask mandate for Alabama.

“We have to get past Easter before we take the steps that other states have taken,” she said. “But let me make this perfectly clear, we will not continue mask orders after April 9.”

Businesses may continue to impose face mask requirements even after that date if they so choose.

Fifteen states had lifted their face mask requirements as of Thursday.

Ivey also announced other revisions to the state’s Safer At Home order. Bars, restaurants and breweries no longer have to limit to eight the number of customers at tables, but tables still must remain six feet apart, under revisions announced Thursday.

The governor said that as of Saturday, outdoor programs at senior centers and children’s camp programs can resume.

She also said two visitors now would be allowed for people in hospitals or nursing homes, rather than the one visitor allowed now.

However, the head of the Alabama Nursing Home Association warned after the governor’s press conference that nursing homes in the state must abide by federal restrictions on visitation. President and association CEO Brandon Farmer said that, until the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services revises visitation restrictions imposed Sept. 17, the number of visitors will be restricted.

“We appreciate Gov. Ivey and Dr. Harris for continuing to work with nursing homes and helping us open visitation for our residents and families. We know how important it is for nursing home residents to be able to visit their loved ones in-person and have been working to reopen our doors since CMS first restricted visitation in March 2020,” Farmer said.

“We hope the federal government will soon review and revise the guidance in light of the declining cases and vaccine uptake.”

When asked why she continued the mask mandate after the state Senate passed a resolution asking it be stopped and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth pushed for it to be canceled, Ivey replied, “They don’t have access to the information that I have.”

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said the state reached a milestone last week with 10,000 deaths from COVID-19.

He said the state averages between 51,000 and 52,000 lives lost for various reasons each year. In 2020, there were a total of 64,400 deaths.

The state also reached a positive milestone this week, when the daily average of new COVID cases and people hospitalized with the coronavirus dropped to the lowest levels since June, according to Alabama Department of Public Health.

However, public health officials nationally have issued warnings that the virus could see a resurgence in the spring as variants of the virus continue to spread and as people resume more social activities.

Harris said that as of Thursday morning, about 1.4 million people had received at least one dose of the vaccine in the state.

This week, health officials received 40,000 COVID vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson, but Harris said there will be no more from that drug company for three weeks. The doses are in addition to 100,000 received from Moderna and Pfizer.

J&J received FDA permission just Saturday to distribute the vaccine, which was manufactured by the J&J-owned Janssen Pharmaceuticals. It requires only one dose, rather than an initial shot and a booster, as Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines do.

Harris said that, in addition to health departments, doctors, local pharmacies and others, Walmart is now giving vaccinations at 123 stores statewide, and CVS Pharmacy is giving them at 66 stores.

Harris said his goal is to give 750,000 more vaccinations by April 9.

This story was updated the evening of March 4 to include the Alabama Nursing Home Association’s warnings that federal rules control how many visitors could be allowed in nursing homes.