BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards has announced the statewide mask mandate in effect since July 2020 will be lifted, turning the decision on whether to require them over to local leaders.
“We know that masks work. The evidence is clear, the science is well-established now, and we’ve seen a very positive impact on our state. But at the same time, we’ve had a mask mandate in place since July of last year. I think it’s now intuitive for people to wear a mask in order to protect themselves in higher-risk settings and also to protect others.”
The governor’s latest coronavirus executive order will go into effect Wednesday and remain in effect at least through May 26.
Masks will still be required in buildings in the state’s K-12 schools and in all facilities licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health, including nursing homes. The requirement will stay in place for state buildings, but agency heads will have the option to opt out. Even then, Edwards said those who wish to continue wearing masks should be allowed to do so.
Edwards said all buildings under his administration’s control will require masks, including the three floors that house his offices in the Louisiana Capitol.
“All of my cabinet agencies will be keeping mask mandates in their buildings. It was just yesterday that I received a report of a DCFS worker who actually died from COVID, and so we’re gonna keep the mask mandate on in buildings that are controlled by state agencies that work for me.”
The governor said he will personally continue to wear masks in certain situations.
“I will still wear my mask when in public and when I am close to people.”
The governor also announced adjustments to the current modified Phase 3 COVID-19 restrictions for sporting events, live music venues, event spaces, reception halls and large indoor gatherings. Weddings, sporting events and conferences will be limited to 75% of their occupancy capacity, but they can move to 100% if they enforce a mask mandate.
At his briefing last week, the governor said that decision would depend on the data – but “nothing is off the table.” On Tuesday, Edwards cited improving overall baseline numbers and a steep decline in deaths of those aged 75 and older.
“Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen some small increases in the incidence of COVID in Louisiana, which should concern all of us, especially when you put it in the context of the variants. Our baseline numbers, however, continue to be low and in the grand scheme of things relatively flat,” said Edwards.
“And so with basically flat or small increases with the very low and stable baselines, I’ve decided that we are going to take some steps in further reducing restrictions and mandatory mitigation measures.”
The governor originally implemented the statewide mask order in July of last year after a two-month period in Phase Three in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases, percent positivity, and hospitalizations. He also closed all bars to on-premise consumption.
Edwards has since extended the mask order several times, most recently on March 30 even as he ended many restrictions for businesses in the state, which remains in a modified Phase 3.
The latest data from the Louisiana Department of Health show more than 1.2 million vaccine series had been completed statewide and another 1.47 million have been initiated, for a total of 2,589,967 million doses administered to date. Edwards said Tuesday that 26% of the state’s population has now been vaccinated.
LDH data show 456,884 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases statewide and 10,352 deaths as of Tuesday.
The number of hospitalizations and deaths reported daily have dropped dramatically overall since January, about a month after the first vaccines arrived in the state. As of Monday, the latest data available on hospitalizations, 308 patients were hospitalized statewide with COVID-19. Hospitalizations peaked at 2,069 on January 7, 2021.
The statewide positivity rate has dropped from 13.50% in early January to 3.50% as of mid-April, ticking up slightly from 2.20% at the end of March.
Edwards’ announcement Tuesday will come on the heels of new guidance on outdoor mask-wearing issued earlier in the day by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers, and those who are unvaccinated can go without a face covering outside in some cases, too.