In response to a continued increase in COVID-19 cases Gov. Kay Ivey extended the state’s emergency declaration and mask mandate to March 5. The mandate was set to expire on Jan. 22.

"A great many of us had felt that once we began the new year that we would no longer have to incorporate things like face masks and social distancing into our daily lives," stated Ivey, "but after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays COVID-19 numbers and the number of hospitalization were higher than ever."

Ivey noted that at one point during the week prior Alabama was utilizing 1,561 out of the 1,600 total ICU beds — the highest utilization Alabama has seen during the pandemic at 97.6%.

The governor also mentioned that the state's seven-day average for new cases was 2,666 per day. This is lower than the previous week as the Christmas and New Year surges abated, but still higher than the 7-day averages in the months leading up to the holiday season.

"The mask mandate remains the one step that we can take to maintain balance in our daily lives," said Ivey during the press conference and added that, "it's not very complicated."

ADPH has labeled Jackson County as one of two "Very High Risk" counties for COVID-19 in the state.

The county's cases have drastically increased since the beginning of the year and 10 more Jackson Countians have died since the beginning of the year.

ADPH makes the designation for risk categories based on the likelihood of transmission in the county and suggests alterations be made to various activities and gives stricter suggestions than the Governor's Safer at Home order.

Jackson County has added 522 cases in January bringing the total number of infected since March 2020 to over 5,000 — roughly 10% of the county's total population.

When a designation is assigned, ADPH examines various risk factors. They look at case numbers, time of infections reported as well as the amount of testing being done to find new cases in an area. All of this data is then compiled and examined by state health experts.

This designation comes as vaccine has begun to reach Alabamians.

"We have a means to get to the end now with vaccination," stated Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer.

Harris noted that the vaccine will help Alabama move beyond COVID-19, but until then the Mask Mandate remains necessary and important for lowering infections and hospitalizations in the Alabama.

Harris stated that Alabama has distributed 202,643 doses of vaccine to residents or roughly 42% of the state’s current supply of the vaccine. He added that much of the other 58% of the supply has already been allocated for second doses.

"If you are a person who wants a vaccine in Alabama, you are going to get that," stated Harris.

The state health department has also been in talks with the Biden administration to increase the amount of people included in Alabama's various vaccination groups.

Harris said that he expects this to add roughly 500,000 Alabamians to the next round of vaccine even though the amount of vaccine allocated to the state — roughly 60k doses each week — will not increase.

"It's hard to say, we want you to come in," noted Harris citing supply issues, "but we don't have enough [vaccine] to give it."

Harris added that the state is looking at other avenues of distribution for the vaccine and announced a partnership with Walmart Pharmacies to distribute a portion of the state's allocation through the chain.

A federal program to utilize chain pharmacies — locations such as Walgreens, CVS and Publix — for vaccination distribution, that would not utilize any of the states total allocated vaccine and would instead come from federal supplies.

This comes as the death toll in Alabama has reached 6,283 and the U.S. has surpassed 400,000 deaths.

"Quite frankly we have run out of ways to underscore the importance of taking this virus seriously," said Ivey.

"If you are a person who wants a vaccine in Alabama, you are going to get that."

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