Edwards extends mask mandate until Oct. 27

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced today 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 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. 

But shortly after the requirement was reenacted, hospitalizations of patients 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.

Even as the latest surge lessens, Louisiana’s health department cautioned today that it has seen an increase in “severe pregnancy outcomes” among unvaccinated women in a state that lags most others in its coronavirus immunization rates. The agency cited the cases of 14 pregnant women infected by COVID-19 since mid-July, saying six of those women died and 10 of the children died.

Edwards’ continued mask mandate includes all public indoor locations such as K-12 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.

Edwards said keeping the mask requirement was 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 state, however, has not rolled out a strong enforcement effort of the mandate, hoping that most schools, businesses and residents will comply voluntarily.

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, according to department data.