MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Kay Ivey said Wednesday that Alabama is shifting to personal responsibility in the fight against COVID-19, keeping her promise to let a statewide face mask order expire Friday.
Ivey said she's issuing a "greatly slimmed down" health order that has few restrictions. It encourages people to keep taking precautions such as voluntarily wearing masks, but no longer includes a statewide mask order.
Alabama opened vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older two days ago, and state health officials said virus hospitalizations, percentage of positive tests and daily case numbers are hitting some of the lowest numbers in a year.
“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. Please, please continue to use good common sense and we will see the end of COVID-19 soon,” Ivey said.
The Republican governor said she'll keep wearing a mask around others after Friday, and urged other Alabamians to do the same. She also urged people to respect businesses who require customers to wear masks.
The lifting of restrictions comes despite Alabama ranking last in the country for the percentage of people who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only 25% of Alabama's population has received at least one dose, far short of the 70% or more that many experts say is necessary to achieve herd immunity, which would protect people who don’t protect themselves.
Ivey's latest order also goes against a request from President Joe Biden for states to maintain mask orders to stave off a fourth surge of the virus.
Birmingham and Montgomery will keep mask mandates in place beyond Friday.
Mayor Randall Woodfin said Birmingham's mask ordinance is needed because COVID-19 continues to be a health threat and most people in the city and the state have not been fully vaccinated.
“We will continue to make decisions that we believe will save lives. They may not be popular,” Woodfin said Tuesday.
The governor's new health order — illustrated in state materials with a stoplight showing the green light illuminated, reflecting improving conditions and fewest restrictions — keeps restrictions for quarantined individuals and limits on hospital and nursing home visitations, but has few other restrictions.
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Alabama did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 438.86 new cases per day on March 22 to 304.86 new cases per day on April 5.
"We are not out of woods yet, but we do feel better about where we are now," State Health Officer Scott Harris said.