Alabama Governor Kay Ivey held a press conference Tuesday morning to announce a statewide mask mandate, subject to certain exceptions, in response to explosive growth of new cases of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. She was joined by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.
The new mask requirement goes into effect Thursday, July 16, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. and is set to expire on July 31, 2020. While in effect, it replaces all local mask rules to provide a uniform, statewide rule.
“I’ve said all along that I reserved the right to reverse course,” Ivey said. “This is the first step in doing just that. More restrictive actions we could do, but we don’t want to go there. I am calling on everyone to practice personal responsibility and wear a mask.”
She said the order includes a $500 fine or possibly even jail time.
“The goal is not to direct our sheriffs to go around arresting people for not wearing a mask. This is to demonstrate the urgency of engaging this important tool, which the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] says is the most effective way we can limit the community spread,” Ivey said.
Face coverings—whether store-bought, homemade or improvised from household items like scarves, bandanas or t-shirts—are used to create a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and contaminated airborne particles in the immediate environment. Exempted from the order are children six and younger, people with certain medical conditions, persons eating and drinking. The order carves out narrow exceptions for protected activities like voting and religious worship in which wearing a mask remains strongly encouraged.
Ivey admitted the mask order will be difficult to enforce, but “you shouldn’t have to be ordered to do what is in your best interest. I understand the frustration with guidance constantly changing, but things are evolving very fast everyday. We are making the best decisions we can with the information available. I also understand that many are fatigued by COVID-19, but hang in there. I am not sure when, but we will get through this.”
Over a two-week period starting June 29, Alabama saw a 50% increase in cases, adding more than 17,000 new infections, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
“The numbers don’t lie,” she said.
She told reporters the state still plans to reopen schools next month.
Ivey was joined by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, who said they had “no choice” on issuing a mask order given the growing threat of Alabama hospitals becoming overwhelmed. Thirty of them have limited or no ICU capacity remaining as they treat 1,477 patients with another 541 suspected of having the coronavirus.
“Alabama set a new record high of 2,100 new cases and 45 new deaths added on Wednesday, with about a 2% fatality rate and positive results in 14% of tests conducted. This is not a reflection of increased testing alone. Clearly, there is a disease circulating,” Harris said.
In DeKalb County, there was a 388% increase in the seven-day average of new cases, with 117 new COVID-19 positive tests confirmed. The local death toll has increased from five to seven, contributing to 1,164 fatalities statewide, as of Wednesday.
Ivey said signage is available for businesses to print out and display to their customers.
To learn more about the mask requirement, including exceptions, visit https://governor.alabama.gov/assets/2020/07/Coronavirus.MaskOrderFAQ.0720na.pdf.