State health order and mask mandate extended to March 5

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey extended her state health order Thursday for six more weeks, meaning the current mask mandate will stay in place until at least March 5.

Ivey cited a surge in COVID-19 cases from Christmas and New Year’s and said although the spike appears to have passed, numbers are still higher than they were two to four months ago.

“A great many of us had hoped that when we began the new year we’d no longer have to incorporate things like face masks and social distancing in our daily lives,” Ivey said. “But after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, COVID-19 numbers and the number of hospitalizations were higher than ever — more than our highest point from last summer.”

Dr. Scott Harris with the Alabama Department of Public Health said the department has heard the frustration from people about the vaccine rollout, but asked people to be patient.

“If you are a person who wants a vaccine in Alabama, you are going to get that,” Harris said.

Alabama so far has administered 202,643 doses of the vaccine as of Wednesday night, according to Harris. He said the state just reached an agreement with Walmart where the retail chain will become a vaccine provider at its pharmacies in the state, and there are ongoing talks with another pharmacy chain.

Harris said they continue to add providers in the state, but the issue is not having enough vaccine to go around. Out of the 502 enrolled providers, Harris said a little more than half have not received vaccine yet because there isn’t enough to go around. And he said the state’s allocation of 50,000 to 60,000 doses a week will not change anytime soon.

In order to make sure the vaccine that does come to the state is given out efficiently, Harris said they are surveying providers to ensure they’re giving out their allotment in a timely manner, and they’re moving vaccine when it needs to be moved.

“I want to acknowledge that there are always going to be parts of our state, particularly rural areas, where people just have access to care issues and transportation issues, and we understand they’re not going to be able to give it quite as fast,” Harris said. “We’re not going to penalize those folks, of course. But for those who have some vaccine that they’re not giving as quickly as they should, we’re going to move that to another location.”

County health departments have also shifted staff to administer vaccine until they run out, he said. The state is also close to having a portal online for vaccine registration to go along with the hotline, which Harris said is running 165 lines and continues to stay busy.

Ivey urged people to be patient as the state rolls out vaccines to providers and said it’s still important to practice public health measures.

“The mask mandate remains the one step we can all take in order to keep some balance in our daily lives and stay healthy and safe,” Ivey said.

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