UPDATE: Ivey announces ‘Safer Apart’ order beginning April 9

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday, April 7 announced the state will enter a “Safer Apart” health order beginning Friday, April 9 and expiring Wednesday, May 5 at 5 p.m.

The new phase of Alabama’s health order effectively ends the statewide mandate for facial coverings as of April 9 but allows municipalities and businesses to continue to set their own guidelines.

“This is definitely good news, and we are definitely moving in the right direction,” Ivey said Wednesday, adding that she will continue to wear her mask and that she urges Alabama citizens to “use common sense” and “practice personal responsibility” to protect themselves and others.

Ivey said that while the state remains under a public health order, the order is “greatly slimmed down” due to everyone doing their part social distancing, wearing a mask and voluntarily getting a vaccine.

“We know that wearing masks has been one of our greatest tools in combating the spread of the virus,” Ivey continued. “That, along with practicing good hygiene and social distancing, has helped us keep more people from getting sick or even worse from dying.”

The governor also shared statistics including as of Monday, the seven-day average for newly reported COVID-19 cases in Alabama was 328 per day, a 92-percent drop from the high reached on Jan. 10 and the lowest such average since spring 2020.

Also, as of Monday, the seven-day average number of COVID-19 patients in Alabama hospitals was 331, which translates to an 89-percent drop from the highs reached on Jan. 11 of this year.

Nearly 1.2 million individuals across the state have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, a statistic Ivey called “remarkable” considering the state’s population of nearly 5 million. That translates to almost 30 percent of eligible people in Alabama receiving the vaccine in the four months since it has become available.

Ivey reminded residents that anyone 16 or older is currently eligible for some versions of the vaccine.

“We can now expand eligibility so that everyone who wants a shot can have a shot. Now that a majority of the state is eligible for vaccination, I imagine that our phone lines and appointments will be in even greater demand.”

Added Ivey, “We are finally rounding the corner. While we haven’t whipped this deadly disease just yet, it appears that, thank the good Lord, we are in the home stretch. So please, please continue to practice good common sense and we will see the end to COVID-19 soon.”

Discussing the vaccine rollout effort, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said delays during the first couple of weeks resulted in a low national ranking for Alabama, but the process is now moving more smoothly, particularly when it comes to making the vaccine available to high-risk individuals.

“We want to continue to reach as many people as possible,” Harris said.

Encouraging everyone to get the vaccine, Harris reported that he had received it, along with his wife and parents. He said his adult children are in the process of getting vaccinated.

Harris reminded the public that vaccines are free, even though providers may charge an administration fee to insurance providers.

“That seems to be a misconception that we hear a lot. Please don’t let that be a barrier for you. Please try to get a shot if you’re able to do that,” he said.

When asked about COVID-19 variants, Harris said approximately 200 had been identified in the state, the majority of which were known to be the UK variant, which the vaccine reportedly protects against. As far as public safety measures, he said the strategy remains the same.

“We hope people will try to avoid crowds, wear masks when you can’t do that. Certainly do your best to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he reiterated.

When asked whether the expiring mask mandate will cause confusion in cities that have implemented their own mask mandates, Ivey indicated the decision is up to each city or town.

She added that many businesses believe wearing masks is important to keep their doors open and keep their employees and customers safe. For the benefit of businesses, the governor’s team will continue to distribute signs to the media that are available at Governor.alabama.gov.

“I certainly have no jurisdiction over the cities, and businesses and other folks certainly have the right to set their own rules for doing business in their stores,” she said. “I just applaud the initiative of local people wanting to continue to encourage the masks. I’m certainly going to continue to encourage people to wear the masks whenever I’m out in a crowd.”

A further clarification was made that, while much of the Safer Apart order will be based on personal responsibility rather than mandates, a major exception continues to be hospital and nursing home visitation allowances, which must continue to be followed.

As for churches, Ivey said she’d refer to each individual church’s respective pastor or minister to use “their own common sense.”

“I continue to attend church services livestreaming on Sunday mornings, but I look forward to getting back into church,” Ivey said.