The state's "safer at home" order aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 and set to expire Friday has been extended through July 31, even as new infections and hospitalizations for the disease hit record highs.
Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris announced the extension at a news conference in Montgomery this morning, and Ivey warned that if cases continue to increase more restrictions may be necessary.
"We are still in the thick of this virus disease, and it is deadly," Ivey said. "We're learning to live with this disease, and we need to continue to do what we need to do to avoid another stay-at-home order."
Other states experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have tightened restrictions. Texas shut down bars; Arizona closed bars, delayed school reopenings and ordered masks to be worn in public; and Florida and California also recently backtracked on the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions.
Alabama's ongoing order restricts visitation at hospitals and nursing homes, requires retail stores to be limited to a 50% occupancy rate, requires that restaurants and bars separate tables by at least 6 feet, requires that those in non-work gatherings maintain a 6-foot distance between people of different households, and requires that social distancing and sanitation guidelines be followed by employers, educational facilities, child care facilities and close-contact service providers.
Other than the expiration date, the only change in the order announced today is a slight broadening of visitation at hospitals and long-term care facilities. In addition to allowing visitation for "certain compassionate care situations such as maternity, end-of-life, and support for persons with disabilities," the new order also allows visitation "where the presence of a caregiver would facilitate appropriate care."
While Ivey and Harris spoke, the Alabama Department of Public Health released data showing 854 new COVID-19 cases had been detected Monday, along with 21 deaths from the disease. So far, 37,536 Alabamians have contracted the virus and 926 have died from it. The number of cases has grown 22% over the last seven days.
An additional 16 people tested positive in Morgan County according to ADPH data released today, bringing the total to 955. Limestone County has had 403 cases, including nine in the data released today. Lawrence County had three more positive tests, bring the total to 100.
Ivey said there is evidence the recent surge in cases was the result of Memorial Day gatherings, and she cautioned people to take precautions over the Independence Day holiday.
"If we continue going in the wrong direction and the hospitals are not able to handle the capacity, then we're going to reserve the right to come back and reverse course," Ivey said.
Ivey stressed that people should stay at home when possible, practice social distancing when in public, and wash hands frequently.
"And when you're in public, for goodness sake, wear a mask. Dr. Harris and I could order you to wear a mask, but it would be next to impossible to enforce," she said. "But you know, you shouldn't have to order somebody to do what is in your own best interest and that of the folks that you care about."
Harris said the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive is almost 11%, its highest point.
“That means we know we have increasing transmission going on in the community,” Harris said.
He said hospitalizations are also at their highest point, with 750 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, another 300 hospitalized and awaiting test results, and 275 intensive care beds available statewide.
He said the risk for people 65 and older is particularly high.
"Seniors who are infected with this disease have about a 1 in 9 chance of not surviving. That's a tragedy," Harris said.
Like Ivey, Harris emphasized the importance of face coverings in reducing transmission of the virus.
"We know that face coverings aren't perfect and they don't prevent everything, but we do know that they limit your chance of giving the infection to someone else if you have it, and as we know many people who can spread the disease don't even know they are infected," he said.