Edwards extends Louisiana’s mask mandate for another month
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he’s reupping Louisiana’s indoor mask mandate for another month, crediting the face covering requirement with keeping students safe from COVID-19 and helping to combat the state’s fourth surge of the coronavirus illness.
The Democratic governor reinstated the mask mandate in August as Louisiana faced its worst spike in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with hospital leaders describing grim conditions caused by the influx of COVID-19 patients. People infected with the delta variant of the coronavirus filled up hospital beds and damaged access to inpatient health care services for people seeking treatment for non-coronavirus illnesses.
But shortly after the face covering requirement was reenacted, hospitalizations of people battling COVID-19 peaked at more than 3,000 and then started to decline, falling below 1,000 this week for the first time since July. The number of new infections and the percentage of COVID-19 tests returning positive also have dropped sizably over the last six weeks.
While the state is trending in the right direction, “there’s just still a ton of COVID in Louisiana,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public health adviser. “We’re nowhere close to being out of the woods yet.”
Louisiana has three times the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 than it did at the start of July, and Edwards said the weekly rate of infection remains more than two times larger than what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a high level of transmission.
Kanter highlighted two particular areas of concern, increases in “severe pregnancy outcomes” among unvaccinated women and in infection rates in children under the age of 18.
Fourteen unvaccinated pregnant women infected by COVID-19 have been hospitalized since mid-July, Kanter said. Six of those women died, and 10 of their unborn babies died. That’s more severe pregnancy-related cases than the state had seen in the pandemic’s first 15 months, Kanter said.
Meanwhile, seven children have died from COVID-19 in the latest surge, according to the health department. Kanter said children under the age of 18 have emerged as the largest category of new COVID-19 infections in recent weeks.
Pointing to that data, Edwards said keeping the mask requirement is especially critical for schools, where many students are too young to be vaccinated and where people are crammed into packed classrooms for hours each day.
The mask mandate includes all public indoor locations such as schools, colleges, restaurants, bars, gyms and retail stores. The requirement covers anyone age 5 and older and any kindergartners if they are under the age of 5, and it includes people who are vaccinated.
The governor can only enact such public health emergency rules for a month at a time, so he must continue renewing the mask mandate monthly if he wants to keep it in place. The latest order will expire Oct. 27.
The state, however, has not rolled out a strong enforcement effort of the mandate, hoping that most schools, businesses and residents will comply voluntarily.
The Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business called the extension of the mask mandate “ridiculous.”
“This governor asked for the biz community support to slow the spread and that has happened. Now here we are living under another extended order. Biz owners are finding it more and more difficult to implement this mandate,” the organization wrote on Twitter.
Louisiana’s health department Tuesday reported 1,031 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 over the last 24 hours and 989 people hospitalized with the illness. More than 12,200 people across Louisiana have died of the coronavirus disease, and another 1,600 deaths are considered likely from COVID-19, according to department data.
But the state no longer has the highest per capita COVID-19 growth in the nation as it did in early August when Edwards reinstated the masking requirement. Louisiana has fallen to among the lowest per capita rates among for new cases, according to the CDC.
Louisiana continues to have one of the country’s lowest vaccination rates. More than 45% of the state’s 4.6 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
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