Virus Outbreak Alabama

Governor Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris ask citizens to continue wearing masks and use social distancing during a coronavirus update in the state capitol building in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday June 29, 2020. On Thursday, Ivey extended the mask order for the final time, until April 9.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended a statewide mask order into March as the state continues to face high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Ivey made the announcement during a news conference at the state Capitol. The order, which has been in place since July, requires face masks in public when interacting within 6 feet (2 meters) with people from another household. The mask order will last until 5 p.m. on March 5.

The Republican governor said wearing a mask is one thing people can do to help slow the spread of the virus. She thanked the people of the state for taking precautions and being willing to take the vaccine.

"We'll get through this thing together," Ivey said.

More than 6,370 people have died from COVID-19 in Alabama, and about 430,000 have tested positive since the pandemic began. State case numbers hit record levels in the wake of winter holidays, but the state has seen recent improvements in hospitalizations and the positivity rates as the state emerges from that surge.

Medical officials had urged Ivey to extend the order amid the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, which has been hindered by a limited national supply.

Dr. Sarah Nafziger, vice president of Clinical Support Services at UAB Medicine, said masks remain "very, very important."

"How long will we need to do that? I don't know. It depends how quickly we get those vaccine doses and how quickly we can get them administered," she said Tuesday.

Alabama began making vaccines available to people 75 and older in addition to health care workers and first-responders this week. Thousands of people flocked to health departments and hospitals after receiving vaccination appointments. A state appointment line was overwhelmed with calls and people expressed frustration at not being able to get through.

"Unfortunately, we do not have enough vaccine for everyone who wants one," Ivey said.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said the biggest obstacle to vaccination is the available supply. The state of nearly 5 million people has had 446,000 vaccine doses delivered so far, according to state numbers. The state has administered 184,000 doses so far.

"Every person who receives a COVID-19 shot is deserving of one and will receive it, as we are determined to make sure that no vaccine is sitting unused on the shelf. We are making every effort to get shots into arms as quickly as possible," Harris said.

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Follow AP's coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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