Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey extended her state’s mask mandate Thursday for another month, breaking with some fellow GOP governors who have lifted existing coronavirus restrictions in their states.
Ivey said that her decision to keep the mandate in place was based on recommendations from medical officials, but reaffirmed in a Thursday press release that it would end on April 9. Ivey also eased a capacity limits at restaurants, allowing them to seat more than eight people as previously required.
“This is very good news,” Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer and now leader of the Alabama Hospital Association, told the Associated Press. “This gives us a month to vaccinate more people and to get a better handle on the role of the UK variant.”
Alabama’s weekly average of new coronavirus cases has dropped dramatically, falling from approximately 3,000 in January to fewer than 1,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are also at their lowest point since the summer.
This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, lifted all coronavirus restrictions in their states, earning praise from other Republican governors but drawing criticism from health experts and the Biden administration.
“This entire country has paid the price for political leaders who ignored the science and when it comes to the pandemic,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “There’s still more work to be done. We need to remain vigilant.”
President Joe Biden himself criticized the governors’ move Wednesday, calling it a “big mistake.”
“The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking,” Biden said.
West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice seemed to echo Ivey Thursday, telling CNN that he didn’t see the “rush” to repeal his state’s mask mandate given its ability to save lives.
“We want to be cautious, we want to be safe … we’ve always listened to the experts,” Justice said. “We’re going to do the smart thing … I don’t know what the real rush is.”