Alabama doctors, hospitals ask Ivey to extend mask order

Gov. Kay Ivey should extend the statewide rule requiring face masks in public, which health officials credit with stemming the spread of COVID-19 in the state, the head of the Alabama Hospital Association and a doctor’s group said Monday.

The number of new cases of COVID-19 confirmed daily has fallen since reaching a high in the summer, and the reduction in the spread of the new coronavirus is all but certainly tied to the masking rule, which took effect in mid-July and is set to expire Friday, said Dr. Donald Williamson, president of the association.

“The one thing that seems to have changed in the course of the pandemic is when the mask order was implemented,” said Williamson. The association supports continuing the requirement through the end of the year and possibly longer, he said.

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama, with about 5,000 member doctors, also supports extending the rule, executive director Mark Jackson said.

“It has helped mitigate some of the positive tests. Sometimes it is a hassle to wear, but we think it is worth the hassle,” he said.

Ivey and state health officials are weighing their options and will announce a decision this week, the governor’s office said, but Ivey already has indicated she plans to keep the face mask order in place.

Speaking to Alabama Public Television in an interview aired Friday, Ivey said she knew some people have “grumbled” about the order, yet schools and businesses have reopened and unemployment has fallen since earlier in the pandemic.

“I don’t like the mask, either. My glasses fog up. It’s a pain in the rear. But at the same time it’s working, and what’s working we need to stick with,” Ivey said.

Alabama has seen about 2,500 deaths from COVID-19, which is caused by the new coronavirus, and some 153,000 cases of the illness. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of new cases in the state has decreased by 102 a day, a decline of 11.1%.

While most people develop only mild or moderate symptoms from the illness, it can be deadly to people with other serious health problems and the elderly.

During a news conference in Decatur, Mayor Tab Bowling urged residents to keep wearing masks in public, as required for anyone who isn’t at least 6 feet from someone else, and noted that high school football coaches are wearing them on the sidelines during games.

“We ask that you do the same,” he said.

While state hospitals were so full of COVID-19 patients at one point they have only 9% of their intensive care beds available, Williamson said the numbers have fallen so much that 19% of ICU beds were available now.

Masks likely will be needed in public until an effective vaccine is distributed widely, which likely won’t happen before 2021, he said.

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