Edwards keeps mask mandate, lifts capacity restrictions at bars, restaurants

Coronavirus
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While several states have shed their mask mandates, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that he intends to keep Louisiana’s face covering requirement in place even though he’s ending many other coronavirus restrictions for businesses.

Customer limits on bars, restaurants, salons, gyms, malls, casinos and other nonessential businesses will be removed, though they’ll be required to use social distancing. They had previously been capped at 50% or 75% of their occupancy limits. Direct table service still will be required at bars, but an 11 p.m. alcohol curfew will end. 

The changes represent the fewest restrictions for businesses since the pandemic began. The new rules start Wednesday, though local officials could choose to enact tougher limits than those put in place by the Democratic governor.

The lightened limits diverge from some of the recommendations of President Joe Biden’s administration, which has urged restrictions to be maintained or tightened to avoid another surge of COVID-19 cases. Administration officials have suggested state leaders are loosening their rules too quickly, when vaccination efforts haven’t reached the levels needed to contain the virus’s spread.

Under Edwards’ new rules, which will last four weeks, sporting events will remain limited to 50% of their crowd capacity. Event spaces, reception halls and other facilities that host large gatherings also will be capped at half their occupancy limit both indoors and outdoors, with no more than 500 people allowed inside. Religious services will continue to have no rules on crowd size, but social distancing will still be required.

However, Edwards says he won’t loosen the rules for face coverings, which have been in place since July, arguing that masks are one of the most effective ways to lessen the spread of COVID-19.