HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Gov. Kay Ivey’s extended mask order is facing some strong criticism from a number of health experts in Alabama.

The criticism is focused squarely on the her decision to do away with a 50% occupancy limitation at restaurants, gyms, and retailers.

“What that means is more hospitalizations and more deaths as well,” said Dr. Ali Hassoun of Huntsville Hospital. “Being in a closed place, in close contact, with a lot of people, is a major set up for transmission and infection.”

Ivey defended her decision Thursday as one based on the need to balance health concerns with economic ones, as businesses continue to face financial hurdles amid the pandemic. Restaurants and gyms will now also no longer be required to enforce social distancing as long as people wear masks, and barriers are in place between tables or gym equipment.

“The barrier really is not going to prevent these infections and these transmissions,” Hassoun said.

Dr. George Rutherford, a nationally recognized expert on COVID-19 at the University of California San Francisco, applauded the governor’s decision to extend her mask-wearing requirement through December, but agreed with Hassoun on the change in occupancy policies.

“Going to maximum capacity, with barriers, in places where people are going to be taking their masks off, because they to eat and drink, and probably without great ventilation, although that can be fixed at some expense, I think is pushing the envelope,” said Rutherford.

Hassoun is appealing to restaurants and gym owners to continue to follow the old rules, and limit their capacity.

“I really advise people to do it because you know they don’t want to get their employee infected, they don’t want to get infected, and at the same time customers would not be happy if one of them get infected while they are in restaurant or gym, because they’re going to be complaining about the facility as well,” said Hassoun.

Hassoun said he is making that plea as area hospital emergency rooms and ICU’s are seeing an increasing number of COVID-19 patients.