Politicians and health experts compete for Governor’s ear ahead of mask mandate decision

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A struggle began to brew Wednesday between health experts and politicians, hoping to gain the ear of Governor Kay Ivey ahead of her decision on Alabama’s mask mandate, Thursday.

“We’re not out of the woods yet with this thing. We’re a lot better than we were before, but we’re just not there yet,” said Dr. Sarah Nafziger of UAB Hospital.

So far the only hint the Governor has provided on how she might side on the issue of masks has been through a spokesperson, who noted that she prefers “personal responsibility over government mandates.”

With less than 13 percent of Alabamians having received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine so far, Dr. Nafziger hopes the Governor will extend the state’s mask order. Meanwhile, Dr. Karen landers from the Alabama Department of Public Health, praised the use of masks, but stopped short of offering an opinion on how the Governor should side on the issue.

“Masks are very very important in terms of infection control. So I do think that masks play a role, but again we will defer to the Governor on her decision related to that,” said Dr. Landers.

Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth, who tested positive for the coronavirus in October, offered a polar opposite view on the topic in a statement Wednesday, saying in part: “I urge Gov. Kay Ivey to immediately lift the statewide mask mandate and allow citizens and local officials the liberty to make the decisions that best fit their circumstances…Rescinding the blanket mask order and lifting capacity restrictions and other limitations will also send the loud, clear, and unmistakable message that Alabama is once again fully open for business.”

It’s a move that Dr. Nafziger says would have deadly consequences.

“Do I think we should do this great experiment where we just get rid of the masks and see what happens. No I don’t, ” said Dr. Nafziger. “I believe even one life lost because we do that is too high of a price to pay. I’m not willing to gamble with anyone’s life right now.”

The Alabama Hospital Association also weighed in on the topic Wednesday. The association’s president Dr. Don Williamson hopes people will consider wearing masks no matter what happens Thursday. Still there’s concern about what message will be sent and how people will take it.

“Instead of hearing it as – we now need you to use your common sense and continue to wear a mask, continue to social distance. They will hear it as we have beat the virus and a mask is no longer required. That would be a disaster,” said Dr. Williamson.

More than 10,000 Alabamians have died from COVID-19. NEWS 19 will carry Governor Ivey’s announcement live at 11:00 a.m. on TV and on WHNT.com

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