Alabama’s COVID-19 public health order and the state of emergency will both end by early July.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that the COVID-19 public health order will end May 31 and the state of emergency will end July 6.
“For over a year now, Alabamians, like people around the globe, have made sacrifices and adjusted to a temporary ‘new normal,’” Ivey said in a news release. “We have learned much since last year, and this is absolutely now a managed pandemic. Our infection rates and hospitalizations are in better shape, and over 1.5 million Alabamians have had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Alabamians have consistently stepped up to the plate over the course of this pandemic, and I know they will continue to do so. I am pleased that we have shown the rest of the country that we are gritty and determined. We are signaling loud and clear that Alabama is open, and we are moving forward.”
The public health order has been amended numerous times in the past year as restrictions were tightened and loosened. The order’s mask mandate was lifted in early April.
The state’s current Safer Apart order mainly follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on preventing transmission. However, Senior Citizen Centers are still under restrictions and must follow guidelines issued by the Alabama Department of Senior Services. Hospitals and nursing homes must follow current guidance from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services with respect to visitation.
But unless there is a spike in COVID-19 cases, Ivey expects these last remaining requirements to be lifted with the expiration of the current order on May 31.
More than 1.1 million people have completed a vaccine series in Alabama and 1.5 million have received one or more doses of vaccine, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard. In the last 14 days, the state has reported 3,771 new COVID-19 cases. Since the pandemic began in Alabama in March 2020, there have 528,784 confirmed and probable cases of the virus and 10,913 confirmed and probable deaths due to COVID-19. As of Monday, there were 356 patients hospitalized around the state. Hospitalizations reached a high of 3,084 patients in January.
“As we approach the fourteenth month of this pandemic, we are pleased that two-thirds of Alabama residents age 65 and older have been vaccinated,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in the news release. “While some barriers such as transportation remain, more than 1,300 providers in the state are administering safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in communities throughout the state.”
Harris said the state is fortunate to have support from the Alabama National Guard, which recently concluded a series of vaccination clinics in 24 rural and underserved counties around the state. The National Guard will now begin smaller mobile sites in each public health district in an effort to offer vaccine to hard-to-reach populations.
“I am excited about the progress that has been made,” Harris said.
Alabama ranks No. 49 nationally in its vaccination rate, better only than neighboring Mississippi, and health officials say demand is declining in places. With vaccination rates lagging particularly in areas dominated by conservative white people, health officials have said it is unclear how many more people might be willing to get a shot.
Dr. Ellen Eaton, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said physicians are seeing more and more COVID-19 who are young and not vaccinated. With only 22% of the state’s residents fully vaccinated, leaders should aim for more widespread protection before any return to business as usual, she said.
“If we can’t reach this goal, we will continue to see clusters and outbreaks in unvaccinated workers, we will continue to see essential workers and students out sick/in quarantine, and we will continue to see kids missing out on learning in the classroom. And these are all avoidable through widespread vaccination,” Eaton said in an email to the Associated Press.
As of April 5, all Alabamians ages 16 and older have been eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
Ivey continues to encourage Alabamians to get vaccinated.
“Look, I have been vaccinated,” Ivey said. “I believe in the science, believe that it works and have confidence in it. So, like I said, I have been fully vaccinated, and I will live like I have been fully vaccinated. Similar to when we ended the mask requirement, this final extension gives all Alabama health care providers, businesses and individuals adequate time to make preparations.”
Peggy Ussery is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or 334-712-7963. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.