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Jump in virus cases may lead to mask rules in New Orleans

July 20, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2020, file photo, students arrive by bus at Foundation Preparatory School for their return to school during the coronavirus in New Orleans. It was the first day of in-person learning for fifth-12th grade public school students in Orleans Parish. Despite climbing numbers of COVID-19 cases around Louisiana, state education leaders are leaving decisions on mask mandates, physical distancing and other measures aimed at lessening coronavirus spread to local public school districts for the upcoming year. (Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2020, file photo, students arrive by bus at Foundation Preparatory School for their return to school during the coronavirus in New Orleans. It was the first day of in-person learning for fifth-12th grade public school students in Orleans Parish. Despite climbing numbers of COVID-19 cases around Louisiana, state education leaders are leaving decisions on mask mandates, physical distancing and other measures aimed at lessening coronavirus spread to local public school districts for the upcoming year. (Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP, File)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A nine-fold increase in newly reported COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks and a jump in the percentage of positive tests for the disease has New Orleans officials considering new mitigation measures, a city spokesperson said Tuesday.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city’s health officer, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, will announce plans Wednesday, Cantrell spokesperson Beau Tidwell said at a weekly City Hall briefing.

Tidwell wouldn’t give details. But he said under questioning that rules involving masks are “certainly a strong possibility.”

“All options are on the table,” Tidwell said.

The city eased numerous restrictions in May, including a city-wide masking requirement. The policy at that time was that fully vaccinated individuals were no longer required to wear masks while unvaccinated people “should” wear masks. Businesses currently have the option of requiring masks. Masks are still required in government buildings, hospitals and public transportation.

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The seven-day average of new cases reported daily in New Orleans has jumped to 99, up from 11 two weeks ago. The positivity rate among those tested has surpassed 5%, one of the thresholds the city has used in the past in weighing mitigation measures. Most of the cases are caused by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

While mitigation measures are being considered, Tidwell said getting more people vaccinated is the key to stopping the spread.

New Orleans has a relatively high vaccination rate compared to the rest of the state. More than 63% of those eligible for vaccination have had at least one shot. But, he said, the numbers need to improve. He noted that New Orleans is a tourist destination and said residents need to be vaccinated to guard against being infected by unvaccinated visitors.

State health officials last week sounded alarms about what they called “startling” jumps in coronavirus infections last week. Hospitalizations in Louisiana had hit a low of 242 in June, the lowest since early 2020 when the state became a hot spot for COVID-19. On Tuesday, the number hospitalized was 779.