Mar 4, 2021
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey COVID-19 Press Conference March 4: Mask Mandate Extended Until April 9
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey held a COVID-19 press conference on March 4, 2021. She extended the statewide mask order until April 9, but said she will not extend it after that date. Read the full transcript here.
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Governor Kay Ivey: (04:54)
Good morning. Well good morning, y’all, and thank you so much for being here. Dr. Harris, out here today to provide the people of Alabama with an update on the progress that we’ve made in reducing the spread of COVID-19 as well as to discuss vaccine distribution in our State. As Tuesday, Alabama’s seven day average on new COVID-19 cases was 778 per day. Y’all, that’s an 82% drop from the high reached on January 10th, and the lowest average for daily new cases since late June. Also, the seven day average number of COVID-19 patients in Alabama hospitals was 686, a 77% drop from the high reached on January the 11th, and the lowest average number of COVID patients in Alabama hospitals since June 29 of last year. Y’all, definitely an indication that we’re moving in the right direction and I certainly want to thank the people of Alabama once again, for that tremendous help and support to get us where we are.
Governor Kay Ivey: (06:14)
Even with this positive news, however, Dr. Harris are both convinced that we need to get past Easter and hopefully, allow more Alabamians to get that first shot before we take a step some other States have taken to remove the mask order altogether and lift other restrictions. Folks, we’re not there yet, but goodness knows we’re getting closer. Our new modified order will include several changes that will ease up some of our current restrictions while keeping mask order in place for another five weeks through April nine. But let me be abundantly clear, after April the ninth, I will not keep the mask order in effect. Now there’s no question that wearing masks has been one of my greatest tools in combating the spread of the virus. That along with practicing good hygiene and social distancing has helped us keep more people from getting sick or worse, dying.
Governor Kay Ivey: (07:16)
And even when we lift the mask order, I will continue to wear my mask while I’m around others and strongly urge my fellow citizens to use common sense and do the same thing. But at that time it will become a matter of personal responsibility and not a government mandate. If businesses believe wearing masks are important to keeping their doors open and their employees and customers safe and y’all, many do, then they’ll have five weeks from today to get ready to impose their own policies. As I said, I know other States have started to lift some of their restrictions and we’ve been relaxing our restrictions throughout this entire ordeal every chance we could. While I’m convinced that a mask mandate has been the right thing to do, I also respect those who object and believe that this was a step too far in government overreach.
Governor Kay Ivey: (08:19)
Throughout this time, Dr. Harris and I have worked our hearts out in hopes of bringing about a sense of balance to all of this. We’ve also admitted when we made mistakes and we’ve done that a few times as well. The bottom line is we’ve kept the mask mandate in place for more than a generous period of time because it’s helped. And as a result of the people of our Sate doing their part, we have seen dramatic results and real progress being made. Before Dr. Harris comes up, let me give you a brief update on a few additional changes that are also in the health [inaudible 00:08:57]. One of our most vulnerable groups, our senior citizens have had additional burdens of dealing with restrictions on many of their gatherings. Well, this has been out of an abundance of caution. An unintended consequence has created loneliness, depression, and in some cases, mental and physical decline.
Governor Kay Ivey: (09:18)
So moving forward, outdoor programs will soon be allowed at senior centers with new safety guidelines that the centers will need to follow. It’s also about time for parents to start finalizing plans for their kids to go to summer camps. Therefore, effective tomorrow, summer camps will be able to resume operations this year. And I don’t know who’s going to be more excited about that, the campers or the parents. We are also going to lift restrictions on seating limits at restaurants. Another small but important step to returning to whatever normal will soon be. And finally, we are raising the maximum number of visitors from one to two caregivers to accompany a loved one during their stay at a hospital or a nursing home. Let me be clear, all of our hospitals and nursing homes need to update their visitation policies to accommodate this change.
Governor Kay Ivey: (10:19)
And as we continue practicing personal responsibility and move forward in easing restrictions, I want to, once again, urge patients of job as Dr. Harris and his team work around the clock to get more shots in more arms. I’m proud to announce that my notes say that by this weekend, we expect to have over one million vaccines have been administered, but Dr. Harris tells me this morning, we’ve already reached the million milestone, so that’s a significant milestone when you consider that the first vaccine arrived in our State less than three short months ago. And even with significant increase in vaccine that is coming to our State, we still do not have enough vaccine for everyone who wants a shot. So please be patient as more vaccine arrives each day and our health professionals get more appointments scheduled each day.
Governor Kay Ivey: (11:20)
One final request. I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to me and said, “What can I do to help?” Well, one big way that you can help and everyone can do this is to remember the inspiration of the golden rule. Look out for your friends and neighbors. If you’ve had your vaccine, think about an elderly friend or a relative who might not be as savvy as you are and give them a call to see if you can assist in getting them registered to get their shot, or if you’ve got a car and they don’t, think about giving them a lift to one of the distribution sites in the area. As Dr. Harris makes his way up to the microphone, I once again, one of the things, the people of Alabama. Because of your personal responsibility and strong adherence to our safety protocols, we are finally rounding the corner. Dr. Harris?
Dr. Harris: (12:22)
Thank you very much, governor. Good morning. Thank you, Governor just for all you’re doing to keep our State safe, to keep it open. I really appreciate it very much. Thank you all for joining us this morning. We do have reason for some optimism, although I do want to start on a little more somber note. I think you’re aware that this week Alabama passed the milestone of 10,000 deaths so far since this response has begun. We have lost more than 10,000 of our friends and family and church members and work colleagues. And it’s just a reminder of what a tough year we’ve had in 2020. By comparison, the previous five years going back to 2015, Alabama loses about 51 to 52,000 people a year. That’s about the right number, I guess, you would say for a State our size, we’ve averaged around 52 or 53,000 deaths.
Dr. Harris: (13:20)
This past year in 2020, our preliminary numbers now show well over 64,000 deaths, about 64,400 deaths. So at least 11,000 excess deaths above what we would ordinarily expect in the past year. And remember, our worst days, individual days for deaths weren’t even in 2020, they were in January of this year. So it really has been a difficult year I know for everyone. That said, we do see some bright spots finally. Our hospitalization numbers are as good as they have looked at since very early summer. The daily case numbers and new case numbers are continuing to improve. We’re very proud of our vaccination numbers. They continue to increase. And as the governor mentioned to you, we yesterday gave the 1 millionth shot. We’re actually, as of this morning, at 1,3,396 shots. We know of some larger sites that have not submitted shots even, so we’re even beyond that number and very proud of that.
Dr. Harris: (14:20)
That’s a real tribute to our County health departments, to our doctors and pharmacies and hospitals and community health centers, all the folks in Alabama who are pulling together to vaccinate our fellow citizens. We have now more than 1,200 providers who are enrolled in the program, still the majority of them have not been able to get vaccine because we just haven’t had enough. But we have learned that this coming week, we will actually have more than 100,000 first doses for the first time that’s Moderna and Pfizer, that’ll be a new high for us coming into the State. In addition to that, we have about 40,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or sometimes called the Janssen vaccine. Janssen makes the vaccine and is owned by Johnson & Johnson. The Janssen vaccine is shipping this week.
Dr. Harris: (15:09)
We’ll have providers hopefully giving that in the next day or so. We do know that that’s a one time shipment. We’ve been told that we will not be getting any additional Janssen vaccine for the next three weeks, because there was just a small stockpile that all States are getting this week, but there won’t be additional probably for the rest of the month of March. Nevertheless, that’ll still represent a new high in total doses for us. Our large clinic sites that we had set up around the State last month, or given second dose clinics this week and the Pfizer sites, the Moderna sites will be doing their second shot clinics this coming week as well. I wanted to take one minute just to mention vaccine equity. We’ve gotten many questions about how we’re distributing the vaccine and whether we’re doing it fairly.
Dr. Harris: (15:56)
As you know, all across the country it is African Americans in our State, in our country who are most at risk for dying from this disease. And so, in many cases, those are communities that lack access. They don’t have the ability to obtain vaccine easily, not a new problem with COVID, but a longstanding problem. So we are working very hard to make sure that those communities have access. Like most States, we are using a federal tool that’s called Social Vulnerability Index or SVI. You’ve probably heard me talk about that before, but that’s a way of making sure that our most at risk communities are prioritized for receiving the vaccine. I say that to say that not only does that reflect how we allocate our State vaccine, but we are working now with the retail pharmacies in the federal retail pharmacy program to use SVI as well in terms of where they place vaccine in their stores.
Dr. Harris: (16:49)
We’ve had really good relationships and good conversations the last two weeks with Walmart and now with CVS. They’re continuing to add vaccine in those stores. Walmart is going to be up to 123 stores and only have about 20 remaining awaiting vaccine. CVS is going to have about 66 stores that are going to have vaccine. And all of these additions have been based on the SVI information that we were able to communicate to them. So we greatly appreciate them partnering with us to reach out to the most vulnerable folks in our State. I wanted to mention that we do continue to detect some of the COVID-19 variants that you read so much about. To this point, so far, we’ve only identified that UK variant, we know that the vaccine is effective for that variant and that’s very encouraging to us.
Dr. Harris: (17:39)
There probably are many cases of variants that we’ve not been able to detect because we do testing for it, but we don’t do widespread, large scale testing at this point. So there may be more out there that we haven’t detected. But so far, we feel like we’re keeping ahead of that because there are vaccinations are effective for that. I wanted to make a final note about visitation. I wanted to just reiterate what the Governor said about visitation in hospitals and nursing homes. We very much want people to be reunited with their families and think that’s very important. I do want to remind you that the nursing homes in particular are under federal regulations about that. And when they have outbreaks in their nursing home, or they have a staff member who’s infected or so on, they do have restrictions imposed on them by the federal government about visitation.
Dr. Harris: (18:25)
So we want everyone to be able to visit. We know family members are really desperate to see their loved ones. And yet, please remember to work with your nursing home in your community because they do have those restrictions imposed on them from the federal government as well. So that’s it, that’s all the comments that I wanted to make, except just to thank everyone who’s been part of this effort for so long. We really are getting close to the end. We’ve got a few more months, but we’re much closer to the end than we’ve ever been and I know we’re going to get there soon. Thank you very much.
Speaker 5: (19:02)
Governor Kay Ivey: (19:02)
Speaker 6: (19:03)
Governor, you mentioned that April 9th is the firm date to allow the mask order to lapse or to no longer be in effect. Is there anything that could happen between now and then that could cause you to change your mind?
Governor Kay Ivey: (19:16)
April 9th is going to be the last day I’m going to have a mask mandate. After that, it will be personal responsibility. Alabamians are smart, they got good common sense. They know what works. And like I say, I’m going to continue to wear my mask when I’m around folks, but after the ninth, we’re not having a mask mandate. Yes?
Speaker 7: (19:39)
Governor, some Republicans have urged you to drop the mandate and follow the suite of Texas, the Senate [inaudible 00:19:45] resolution asking you to drop it and the Lieutenant Governor also urged you to drop the mandate. What’s your response to those requests?
Governor Kay Ivey: (19:55)
Maybe they don’t have access to the same information I have. And we want to be abundantly clear and abundantly safe before we drop the mask mandate. And like I said, we’ve reached the million dose that’s been administered already this week even before the weekend. That’s good progress. But if we keep it up and get through Easter, I think we’ll be in a whole lot better shape.
Speaker 5: (20:23)
A couple more questions.
Speaker 8: (20:24)
I was going to ask Dr. Harris, can you give us your sense of where you expect vaccinations in the State to stand on April 9th? How much coverage you would expect by that point.
Dr. Harris: (20:38)
Yeah, it’s a little difficult to estimate because our supplies is increasing, so I would just say conservatively, we’re striving for about 150,000 shots per week. We feel pretty good about that number. Most of the time, somewhere around 25,000 a day is a pretty typical weekday at least. We don’t quite reach that on the weekends. So extending this for five weeks would get another three of a million shots or so. And because it’s a full five week period, some of those are going to be second shots. Some of those are going to be people that are fully immunized as well. So our currently eligible group, as you know is probably around a million and a half people. So if we can get to somewhere around one and three quarter million shots by the 1st of April, I think that’s a terrific place to be.
Speaker 8: (21:25)
[inaudible 00:21:25] how many shots of vaccine [inaudible 00:21:29]?
Dr. Harris: (21:30)
It’s about 150,000 a week is our goal, so I’m trying to do this math in my head, but I think times five weeks, that’s about three quarters of a million.
Speaker 9: (21:45)
[inaudible 00:21:45] real quick. Could you just explain in layman’s terms, just why you would feel comfortable with that level with the mask mandate expiring.
Dr. Harris: (21:50)
Yeah, I think overall we’re seeing decreasing numbers in most parts of the country and there’s a lot of potential explanations why but we are striving to reach this herd immunity point at some point, even though we don’t know exactly where that is, but we know right now about half a million Alabamians have already been infected and certainly many, if not, most of them have some degree of immunity to this disease. We also know that there are many people out there who have been infected that we probably don’t know about who haven’t come to medical attention, but there’s certainly a large pool of people who also have some immunity. And then if we’re able to give 1.6, 1.7 million shots, that’s another pool of people who are immune. So I feel like taken all together, that’ll put us in a good, good position.
Governor Kay Ivey: (22:37)
Speaker 10: (22:38)
Governor, what is your message to businesses who after April 9th may still want to ask Patriots or customers to wear masks?
Governor Kay Ivey: (22:48)
They’re certainly free to do that. They got five weeks to develop their policies, to put what they want in place and that’s perfectly all right, but we’re just not going to have a State mandate after April 9th.
Speaker 5: (22:58)
Governor Kay Ivey: (23:02)
Speaker 11: (23:02)
Governor, looking back …
Governor Kay Ivey: (23:06)
Drop the mask would you?
Speaker 11: (23:06)
I’m sorry. Looking back on all the proclamations that you’ve issued since the beginning of all of this, would you have done anything differently?
Governor Kay Ivey: (23:19)
Well, we’re going to have a joint study on the COVID-19 process after [inaudible 00:23:31] mandate to look at just what we could have done better and what we did do good, because God forbid we have another outbreak of COVID, we want to certainly improve on it and make it much better. And I’ll be working with members of legislation on that.