MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama will begin requiring face masks in public as health officials try to quell a surge of new coronavirus cases that are filling up hospitals, Gov. Kay Ivey's office said Wednesday.
In an announcement made a day after the state reported a pandemic-high of 40 deaths in a single day, officials said masks would be required starting Thursday afternoon for anyone older than 6 who's in public and within 6 feet (2 meters) of someone who's not a relative.
The rule, which has exceptions for people with certain medical conditions, exercising and some work activities, will last through July 31, meaning it is set to expire before most public schools reopen. But other health orders have been extended to fight COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus.
The governor previously pleaded for residents to show “personal responsibility” in fighting the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Ivey declined to impose new restrictions as recently as June 30, when she said a statewide mask order would be “next to impossible” to enforce.
But the pandemic kept getting worse in Alabama as many flouted recommendations for face masks and staying away from others in public. Restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, sports leagues and churches have all reopened with restrictions, and it's common to see people without masks in public spaces.
With the state's caseload increasing by an average of more than 1,500 a day over the past week, hospital officials say fewer than 15% of the state's intensive care beds are available for new patients.
The state reported 40 deaths on Tuesday, a high for the outbreak that pushed the death toll to more than 1,135 in Alabama. More than 56,400 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the state.