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No mask mandates as Louisiana extends emergency status

February 16, 2022 GMT
FILE - Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks during news conference, Sept. 1, 2021, in Gretna, La.  With the state heading into the peak of Carnival season,  Edwards extended Louisiana's COVID-19 health emergency declaration Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, but did not re-institute long expired mask mandates or gathering restrictions.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
FILE - Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks during news conference, Sept. 1, 2021, in Gretna, La.  With the state heading into the peak of Carnival season,  Edwards extended Louisiana's COVID-19 health emergency declaration Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, but did not re-institute long expired mask mandates or gathering restrictions.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
FILE - Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks during news conference, Sept. 1, 2021, in Gretna, La.  With the state heading into the peak of Carnival season,  Edwards extended Louisiana's COVID-19 health emergency declaration Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, but did not re-institute long expired mask mandates or gathering restrictions.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
FILE - Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks during news conference, Sept. 1, 2021, in Gretna, La. With the state heading into the peak of Carnival season, Edwards extended Louisiana's COVID-19 health emergency declaration Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, but did not re-institute long expired mask mandates or gathering restrictions. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
FILE - Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks during news conference, Sept. 1, 2021, in Gretna, La. With the state heading into the peak of Carnival season, Edwards extended Louisiana's COVID-19 health emergency declaration Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, but did not re-institute long expired mask mandates or gathering restrictions. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With the state heading into the peak of Carnival season, Gov. John Bel Edwards extended Louisiana’s COVID-19 health emergency declaration Wednesday, but did not reinstitute long-expired mask mandates or gathering restrictions.

New Orleans, however, plans to keep in place mask mandates and requirements for vaccines or negative tests for many indoor events through Mardi Gras, which falls on March 1. Carnival celebrations were largely canceled last year because of the pandemic. Officials now believe the 2020 celebration was responsible for making the city and state early Southern hot spots of the disease.

Edwards said in a news release that the state is “on the down swing” of a surge in cases fueled by the omicron variant. And he said the number of ways to fight the disease has grown, now including vaccines, boosters, new treatments for the infected and better quality masks. He also urged precautions, while declining to bring back mandates that expired last year.

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“As we move deeper into the Mardi Gras season and with the continued return of big events and gatherings, people should be aware that the CDC recommends that in communities with high transmission rates, currently all 64 of our parishes, people wear masks in public in crowds, especially indoors,” Edwards said in the release. “If you got your booster dose today, you could have supercharged immunity by Mardi Gras.”

The emergency declaration authorizes the governor and state health officials to take emergency actions if necessary to fight the spread of COVID-19. It now is set to expire March 16. However, Edwards said it might end sooner. “The Governor’s office is working with Cabinet officials to determine if allowing the order to expire would hinder Louisiana’s response to COVID,” the news release said.

Louisiana continues to see new COVID-19 cases daily but new case numbers are down, the percentage of positive tests is below 10% and hospitalizations have fallen sharply in the past month. Wednesday’s figures showed 1,396 newly reported cases, and 46 deaths. Statewide hospitalizations stood at 1,022, down from the current surge’s peak of more than 2,300 on Jan. 19.