Alabamians will have to continue wearing masks or face coverings, Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Wednesday.
Ivey held a joint press conference with state health officer Dr. Scott Harris on Wednesday morning to provide a COVID-19 update. Ivey issued her 18th supplemental emergency proclamation containing an amended safer-at-home order that includes a statewide mask requirement, as the current order expires Friday at 5 p.m.
Under this order, individuals will still be required to wear a mask or other facial covering when in public and in close contact with other people, as described in the order.
This amended order extends until 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8.
"I look forward to being able to lift the mask order as much as you do, if not more, and hopefully that can be sooner not later but the reason we're extending this mask order until after the election is because it's important to have a safe environment for our poll workers and for those of us who'd like to vote in person," Ivey said.
Ivey also reminded everyone it's Americans' sacred duty to vote.
Ivey said Alabama did not have a surge after Labor Day weekend as it was predicted and COVID-19 cases are improving throughout the state with fewer hospitalizations and cases.
"This isn't just luck or coincidence," Ivey said. "The numbers speak for themselves."
Daily cases in the state have been consistently dropping since the mask order was implemented July 16, according to Ivey.
Ivey said she's ready to stop wearing masks as much as Alabamians are but it's important to continue wearing them after all the progress made on the COVID-19 pandemic in Alabama.
"I'm just asking you to please please continue to be patient, just a little while longer," Ivey said. "I believe we are close to being able to change the mandate back to personal responsibility."
"I'd hate to see us pill pack to quickly and negate the progress we've made ... by risking another spike due to a false sense of security," Ivey said.
Harris said the government has been working for a few months on releasing a vaccine but working in earnest over the last month. The Alabama Department of Health is submitting a plan in two weeks about how to receive, transport, store and allocate the vaccine. Harris said the state is working with many provider groups to make sure logistics are worked out to be able to offer the vaccine and ensure it is safe and effective.
The state is also working on a plan to prioritize the vaccine once it is available to ensure those who need it most get it first. The vaccine will be a limited resource at first based on priority, Harris said.
Changes to long-term care facility rules
Ivey said there is a critical change in the amended safer-at-home order that relates to long-term care facilities.
"As of today each patient and each resident is allowed one caregiver or one visitor with them at a time unless there are compelling reasons to limit access," Ivey said. "Naturally we want to do everything in our power to protect the safety of the patient as well as workers.
"To the residents and loved ones caring for someone in a long-term care facility, I truly recognize it's been a long hard year."
Ivey wanted to clarify the previous health orders have never prevented someone from accompanying someone into a hospital if he or she is a caregiver or required to help a loved one make decisions.
The press conference is ongoing. This story will be updated.