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Hospital group supports mask order extension in Alabama

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Hospitals support an extension of a statewide face mask order, at least until more people become vaccinated against COVID-19, the head of the Alabama Hospital Association said Monday.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is expected to announce this week whether she will extend the face covering mandate and other health orders that are set to expire Friday. The mandate has been in place since July and has been extended several times.

A spokeswoman for the governor expressed optimism about state virus numbers and said the governor will provide an update soon.

“All along, Governor Ivey has made clear that she prefers personal responsibility to government mandates. We are optimistic that our state is heading in the right direction, and we still have some work to be done,” Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said Monday.

Alabama, like much of the nation, has seen a significant drop in daily COVID-19 cases, but medical officials cautioned that the virus has not gone away, and uncertainty remains about the impact of emerging variants and upcoming events like spring break gatherings.

“It just seems to me until we get more people vaccinated, the most prudent thing to do is to stay the course and continue to try to drive these numbers down, especially because we are still worried about the U.K. variant and the South African variant,” said Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Alabama hospitals has dropped from 3,081 on Jan. 5 to 651 this week. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Alabama has dropped from about 4,280 on Jan. 10 to under 915 on Sunday, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

“All of the numbers are going in the right direction,” Williamson said.

As of Monday, nearly 618,000 people in the state of 4.7 million people had at least one dose of the vaccine — about 13% of the total population.

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