Health expert: Too soon to ease Alabama mask mandate

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey during a mask mandate briefing on Jan. 21, 2021.

A top health expert says it's too early for Alabama to end its order requiring face masks to protect against the virus that causes COVID-19.

Posted: Mar 3, 2021 4:21 PM
Updated: Mar 4, 2021 10:57 AM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Alabama “isn't out of the woods yet” with COVID-19 and it's too early for Gov. Kay Ivey to lift a mask order that has been in place since July, a top health expert said Wednesday as state pandemic deaths topped 10,000.

Dr. Sarah Nafziger, vice president of clinic support services at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told a news briefing she favors retaining the requirement, which is set to expire Friday afternoon without an extension.

Other Republican-led states including Texas and neighboring Mississippi are easing health restrictions as vaccination numbers rise and illnesses linked to the new coronavirus decline, and Ivey is facing pressure to eliminate the mask order. On social media, some are sharing the phone number to the governor's office and asking callers to voice opposition to the rule.

Hospitalizations are at the lowest point than anytime since June, and Nafziger said a reduction in testing indicates fewer people are having symptoms that prompt them to seek a test. But easing restrictions before more people are vaccinated could reverse the overall trend of improvement since mask wearing reduces illness and infection, Nafzier said.

“Is it time to do away with the mask mandate in Alabama? No," she said, adding: “We have a lot of vulnerable people in our population, and the last thing we want is for them to get sick or die.”

While the coronavirus causes only mild to moderate symptoms for most people, it is particularly dangerous for the the elderly and people with other, serious health problems.

The Alabama Hospital Association has asked Ivey to extend the mask rule, which requires facial coverings in indoor public places and outside when social distancing can't be maintained, but the governor's office has not said what she will do.

Ivey has said she prefers “personal responsibility” to government mandates and the state is headed in the right direction, yet "we still have some work to be done,” spokeswoman Gina Maiola said Monday.

The state's death toll from COVID-19 hit 10,029 on Wednesday, state statistics showed, and more than 497,000 people have tested positive. Of more than 1.4 million vaccine doses delivered to providers in the state, almost 973,000 shots have been administered to patients.

With the state lagging behind others in delivering immunizations, Nafziger said UAB — one of the top shot providers in the state — isn't “sitting on doses.” Shipments typically arrive with little notice and in varying amounts, she said, so most scheduling has been “very last minute.” Patients don't like the system, she said, “and we hate it.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307519

Reported Deaths: 7096
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20772248
Hinds19888408
Harrison17489302
Rankin13311275
Jackson13097243
Madison9895210
Lee9856169
Jones8290160
Forrest7523146
Lauderdale7187237
Lowndes6262144
Lamar610584
Lafayette6027117
Washington5280132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4442103
Pearl River4419139
Warren4280118
Marshall4273100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4057132
Union403675
Neshoba3987176
Lincoln3869108
Hancock372085
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3180104
Scott310572
Yazoo304368
Alcorn297764
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265779
Wayne261341
Leake261073
Grenada254982
Covington254580
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237847
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182454
Stone179131
Clarke176876
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163230
Yalobusha158836
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125933
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite120041
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95226
Humphreys94332
Franklin81823
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518899

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753641487
Mobile37763798
Madison33859494
Tuscaloosa25266443
Montgomery23962565
Shelby23106238
Baldwin20631300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14284311
Morgan14139268
Etowah13662345
Marshall11957219
Houston10380278
Elmore9993200
Limestone9811147
Cullman9470188
St. Clair9426234
Lauderdale9215227
DeKalb8746181
Talladega8058171
Walker7087275
Jackson6754110
Autauga6723103
Blount6483135
Colbert6203130
Coffee5399112
Dale4767110
Russell428838
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia387674
Dallas3527149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256258
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218775
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171440
Washington164038
Macon154548
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
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