Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday held her first press conference in more than a month to discuss COVID-19, during which she announced an extension of her “safer-at-home” order until July 31 but no new restrictions amid a surge in cases and hospitalizations.
Ivey’s amended safer-at-home order, which went into effect May 22 and allowed more businesses, athletic activities, trade schools and child care facilities to reopen with restrictions, was to expire at 5 p.m. on Friday. The extension makes no additions to the order, but extends it to run until July 31.
Ivey said while cases continue to rise, she doesn’t believe a statewide requirement for the public to wear masks would be enforceable.
“You know Dr. Harris and I could order you to wear a mask, but it would be next to impossible to enforce,” Ivey said, referring to state Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.
Without a statewide mandate from Ivey, local city governments have been issuing mask orders of their own to slow the spread of coronavirus. Such requirements for the public to wear masks are active in Jefferson County, Montgomery and Selma, and leaders in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa have said they may bring similar measures up for a vote this week.
Alabama on Monday saw a new record number of patients in hospitals with COVID-19, with 715 patients being cared for, and UAB Hospital was caring for 74 coronavirus patients on Monday, the highest number of patients that hospital has seen since the pandemic began.
The seven-day and 14-day rolling averages of new cases on Monday were also at record highs, as were the seven-day and 14-day rolling average of the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive, a sign that public health officials say means the state isn’t conducting enough tests and cases are going undetected.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said at the press conference that the state has well over 30,000 COVID-19 cases, and even though we’re testing more, the percentage of tests that are positive is as high as it’s ever been, which is a sign of increased transmission in the community.
“Our hospitals today are actually reporting more confirmed COVID-19 in-patients than they have seen so far during the outbreak,” Harris said, adding that more than 130,000 Americans and more than 900 Alabamians have died from the virus.
“Please continue to take this seriously,” Harris said. “Our state has opened up in many ways, but this is not the time to let our guard down.’
Harris encouraged anyone who is sick to stay at home, those who aren’t should wear face masks in public and to wash your hands frequently.
Asked why she isn’t following other states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas, which are also seeing spikes in cases and which have enacted new restrictions to slow the spread, Ivey said it’s because of the public’s response to her previous order.
“Well. Folks are not following the restrictions we’ve offered,” Ivey said.
Asked if it is fair to think the public will follow voluntary guidelines to wear masks in public and to social distance now, when those same voluntary guidelines have been in place since mid-May and cases have tripled since, Ivey declined to answer and asked Harris to respond.
Harris said the state needs to have “local buy-in” and for “people to be in favor of what we are doing” so the state is trying to give good information to the public “and hopefully they’re going to make the right decision.”
“I think there’s, even nationally, not an appetite for a lot more restrictions being put in place,” Harris said.
Asked why it’s been almost six weeks since she’s held a press conference, Ivey told the reporter, “If you want to come, I’ll be glad to meet with ya.”
Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Abbeville, lost his sister, 58-year-old Lorianne Grimsley Shakespear, to COVID-19 in April. Speaking during the press conference Grimsley said he can’t force anyone to wear a mask, but he knows it’s what his sister, who was a nurse, would ask of them.
“And if she was alive today that’s exactly what she’d be calling me, telling me each and every day,” Grimsley said. “Protect yourself and protect others.”
Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, made Ivey available for questions for just more than 5 minutes and took six questions, two of which Harris answered, before telling journalists that Ivey had a previous engagement to attend — a rotary club meeting — and closed the press conference.