Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday issued a statewide face mask order to begin Thursday at 5 p.m. and to remain in effect for the rest of the month.
Face masks are to be worn while in public when within six feet of another person outside of one’s own household, while outside around groups of ten or more, and inside in a public spaces and on public transposition, with exceptions, according to the order.
Ivey said there were 2,141 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, and said with continued increases in cases, deaths and hospitalizations she made the decision to require masks to be worn statewide.
There have been 1,183 deaths from COVID-19 statewide, Ivey said, and nine of the first 13 days in July saw daily case increases of more than 1,000.
Ivey said despite the best efforts, we’re seeing increased cases every day “and we are almost to the point where hospital ICUs are overwhelmed.”
Ivey has been reluctant to issue a statewide mask order in previous weeks, and has said such an order would be difficult to enforce.
“I still believe this is going to be a difficult order to enforce, and I always prefer personal responsibility over a government mandate,” Ivey said Wednesday. “And, yet, I also know with all my heart that the numbers and the data over the past few weeks is definitely trending in the wrong direction.”
Ivey said there are more drastic options to slow the spread, including a return to shutdowns, but said, “I don’t want to go there unless there are absolutely no other options available.”
Ivey’s decision came the same day the state saw its highest single-day increase in reported COVID-19 deaths and the day after the previous record. Forty deaths were reported Tuesday as having been caused by the virus, and 47 deaths were reported Wednesday.
At least 151 deaths have been reported in the last week, the most in any seven-day period since the state’s first confirmed death in late March. At least 236 have been reported in the last fourteen days, the most of any two-week period.
On Tuesday, the total number of current hospitalizations of coronavirus patients again reached another all-time high. COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased more than 61 percent since July 1. ADPH hadn’t updated COVID-19 numbers as of Wednesday morning.
The seven-day average statewide positivity rate Wednesday was roughly 16 percent, the highest since the start of the pandemic, taking into account incomplete testing data in April that threw off figures. That’s according to APR’s tracking of state data.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said during the press conference that a full third of the state’s cases have been added within the last two weeks.
“That’s not a reflection of testing, because our percentage of tests that are positive continues to go up. The most recent completed data, leading up to the Fourth of July showed about 14 percent of all tests are positive,” Harris said.
More than 2,000 people across the state were hospitalized for confirmed or suspected coronavirus on Wednesday, Harris said, and about 30 hospitals statewide have very limited intensive care beds availability. At least 1,477 are hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 while 541 are under investigation.
“We really don’t have a lot of other options at this time,” Harris said. “We’re frequently asked, does the economy need to be shut down, and the answer is no. Not if people will cooperate with the orders that we have in place.”
Failing to wear a mask as per the order could result in a $500 fine and arrest, Ivey said. There are some exceptions to the mask order, including children aged six or younger, those with certain medical conditions, while eating or drinking, exercising so long as a person maintains six feet from others, while competing in athletic events and while swimming.
Prior to Ivey’s statewide order, numerous local municipalities and county governments were issuing local mask orders. Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said Tuesday that he’d prefer a statewide order coupled with local orders as a more effective way to convince the public to wear masks.
Beginning Monday, July 20, Walmart and Sam’s Club will require masks to be worn at stores nationwide.
“While we’re certainly not the first business to require face coverings, we know this is a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others in our facilities. According to the CDC, face coverings help decrease the spread of COVID-19, and because the virus can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and don’t know they are infected, it’s critically important for everyone to wear a face covering in public and social distance,” said Dacona Smith, chief operating officer for Walmart U.S., and Lance de la Rosa, chief operating officer at Sam’s Club, in a blog post.
Graphics for businesses to download, print and display for customers on the mask order can be found here.