March 4 (UPI) -- Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Thursday she plans to lift the state's COVID-19 mask order by April 9.
"Let me be abundantly clear, after April the 9 I will not keep the mask order in effect," Ivey said at a news conference.
Ivey cited reduction in COVID-19 case statewide.
As of Tuesday, Alabama's seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases was 778 per day, an 82% drop from the high reached Jan. 10 and the lowest average for daily new cases since late June, Ivey said, adding that COVID-19 hospital rates had similarly declined.
Some 10,000 people have died in the state since the start of the pandemic.
Ivey said that "even with this positive news," the state needed to get past Easter and allow more Alabamans to get their first vaccine dose before lifting mask orders similar to other states.
"There's no question that wearing masks has been one of our greatest tools in preventing the spread of the virus," Ivey said at the press conference. "Even when we lift the mask order, I will continue to wear my mask when 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 government mandate."
Ivey made the announcement while extending the state's "Safer at Home Order" until May 7, which urges residents to minimize travel outside the home and follow other federal COVID-19 health guidelines.
The extended state public health emergency proclamation also eased other COVID-19 restrictions, including a change to allow outdoor programs in senior centers to resume Monday with new safety guidelines.
Ivey cited "loneliness," as an "unintended consequence," of the prior restriction at senior centers during the press conference.
Summer camps can also resume, seating restrictions will be eased at restaurants to allow seating closer than 6 feet if they are separated by partitions, and the state will raise the maximum number of visitors from one to two at nursing homes and hospitals, according to the proclamation.
The camp, restaurant, nursing home and hospital changes will become effective Saturday.
Several major retailers, including Kroger, Target and Walgreens have said they will leave mask orders in place even though some states are dropping the requirement.
Alabama first issued the mask order in July.
More than 1 million people have been vaccinated in the state so far, Dr. Scott Harris, the state's health officer, said at the news conference.
African Americans are most at risk of dying from COVID-19 in Alabama and across the country, and in many cases lack access to vaccines, Harris added. In response, he said the state is using a federal tool, Social Vulnerability Index, to make sure most at-risk communities are prioritized for receiving vaccine.
Harris added the only COVID-19 variant that has been detected so far is the British variant, for which existing vaccines are effective.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told CNN that state leaders easing COVID-19 restrictions are "inexplicable" amid the medical and scientific community's concerns about COVID-19 variants making it harder to stop the spread.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement to WKYC-TV the state's mask mandate will continue until a "critical mass" of people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine has been reached.
Ohio opened its eligibility to vaccines Thursday to 941,000 more people, with Ohioans age 60 and older, Type 1 diabetics, pregnant women, law enforcement officers, ALS patients, bone marrow transplant recipients and child care employees, being among those eligible.
DeWine was expected to give a statewide update on COVID-19 at 5:30 p.m.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has lifted state's mask mandate except for K-12 schools and allowed business to open at full capacity. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement Tuesday regarding his executive order to lift the state's mask mandate and allow businesses to open at 100% capacity to take effect on March 10.