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Ivey stands back from COVID restrictions as mask order set to expire

Ivey ADN interview

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey 

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey took a hands-off approach to mask mandates and other social-distancing rules Wednesday, two days before the statewide mask mandate expires.

   “Use common sense,” Ivey said in a press conference at the Alabama State Capitol, which was also broadcast online. “Use personal responsibility.”

   For more than a year, Alabamians have kept an eye on these press conferences, in which Ivey would announce the latest restrictions by the state health board during the COVID-19 pandemic — from the stay home order of April 20, 2020, to the increasingly relaxed restrictions of 2021.

   The state’s mask mandate expires Friday at 5 p.m., and Ivey made it clear that the next public health order, in place until May 5, contains mostly suggestions for residents and businesses, not mandates. Masks are still strongly encouraged, and businesses and organizations can still implement their own mask requirements.

Hospitals and long-term care facilities are still limited to two visitors at a time per patient. 

   “We’re still under a public health order, but it is greatly slimmed down due to everyone doing their part,” Ivey said. 

   Nearly 1.2 million Alabamians, about one-third of the people eligible for vaccination, have had at least one dose, Ivey said.

   The vaccination campaign is having a clear effect on the state’s COVID-19 numbers, with around 300 people hospitalized with the virus statewide this week. That’d roughly a 90 percent drop compared to the height of the pandemic in January. 

   Ivey said she plans to continue wearing a mask, and she said the state encourages everyone to do so. But the mask mandate — rarely enforced with actual citations or fines — will no longer be a matter of state law. 

   Anniston’s city council voted Tuesday night to keep a mask requirement in place for people entering city buildings, although council members rejected the idea of making the mask mandate citywide. Asked on Wednesday what she thought of cities that impose their own restrictions, Ivey again took a hands-off approach. 

   “I certainly have no jurisdiction over the cities,” she said. Ivey said she applauds governments and business that continue to urge the use of masks. 

   Other states have seen increases in new cases recently, which are attributed in part to the rise of new, faster-spreading variants of COVID-19. State Health Officer Scott Harris said Wednesday that a few hundred cases of COVID variants have turned up in Alabama, but they haven’t made much impact on overall case numbers. 

   Harris said the strategy against the virus remains the same as it was before variants appeared: social distancing, hand-washing, mask use and ultimately vaccination. 

   “I want to remind people that the vaccine is free,” Harris said. 

   He said there’s a growing misconception that people will be charged for the shots, largely because people typically have to present their health insurance information to get it. 

   He said agencies may charge an administration fee to an insurer, but there should be no cost to the person getting the shot.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.