Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced a new statewide health order that will mandate the wearing of masks or face coverings when in public spaces at a news conference on Wednesday morning.
The mandate will go into effect 5 p.m. on Thursday. It will stay in effect until July 31, when the current Safer at Home order is set to expire. Masks or other facial coverings must cover the nostrils and mouth at all times, according to the amended health order.
Ivey made the move in response to a continuing surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state. Alabama currently has had 58,225 confirmed cases, 7,291 hospitalizations and 1,183 deaths attributed to Covid-19 since the outbreak began in mid-March. The state has registered more than 1,000 new cases a day over the past week, with a record 2,140 coming on Wednesday. Currently, 1,477 patients are hospitalized with Covid-19, with another 441 cases under investigation.
"We're almost to the point where our hospital ICUs are overwhelmed," said Ivey. "Folks, the numbers just do not lie."
The move comes after the Big 10 Mayors, a group made up of mayors from the state's 10 most populous cities, called on the governor to issue a statewide mask order. Multiple counties and cities, including Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, have enacted ordinances requiring residents to wear masks.
"You should wear a mask when you're in public and when you're close to other people," said Dr. Scott Harris, who said a mask requirement was the right thing to do.
Alabama citizens must wear a mask when within six feet of another person in an indoor space open to the public, in a vehicle operated by a transportation service, and in an outdoor public space where 10 or more people are gathered. The penalty for a violation is $500 and/or jail time, although that is not the goal, Ivey said.
"Simply, the right thing to do is wear a mask," she said, adding that she is not directing law enforcement to impose fines. Ivey also added that if things do not improve and get worse a Stay at Home order could potentially be issued again.
There are five categories of exceptions, including for children 6 years old or younger, for people with certain medical conditions or disabilities, for people who are eating or drinking or seated at a restaurant, for people undergoing medical or dental procedures, for people exercising at a gym or athletic facility provided they are following the six-foot distance guideline, among other exceptions. Readers can find the full list of exceptions and the amended health order attached to this article.