Gov. John Bel Edwards updates COVID guidance as local leaders set new restrictions

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(The Center Square) – Gov. John Bel Edwards has updated Louisiana’s pandemic safety guidelines as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase.

Edwards, in partnership with the state Department of Health, wants all residents to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, though the recommendation stops short of a state government mandate. That authority has been delegated to local officials.

“Local leaders may implement mitigation measures that are more comprehensive than the current state guidelines should they feel this is best for their communities. In addition, local school boards currently set masking and mitigation policies for their schools,” he said.

The statement echoes an approach recently expressed by the state Department of Education.

“The State of Louisiana has not issued a mandate relative to the use of facial coverings by students or faculty on a school campus or inside a school facility,” said Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley.

“School system leaders should continue to work with the local medical community to determine what works best based on local context,” Brumley said.

Accordingly, Caddo Parish Public Schools – encompassing Shreveport – is hosting students for its “Accelerate Caddo” summer reading and math program. A spokeswoman said masks are not recommended, they are required.

New Orleans recently announced mask requirements for early childhood, elementary and secondary institutions. Masks are also mandatory in city government facilities, hospitals and federally regulated transportation.

Louisiana’s largest city moved to a “Modified Phase Three” public safety designation on Friday, issuing its own indoor mask guidance as well as strong social distancing suggestions and updated rules about gathering sizes.

Indoor gatherings in New Orleans are limited to 250 people, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 500. Larger indoor events will have to meet one of the following conditions: 50% capacity without masks and distancing, 100% capacity with masks or 100% capacity without masks only if individuals provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test occurring within 72 hours.

“Specific public health milestones must be met before the City will begin to ease restrictions and progress from one phase to another. If these criteria are not met or if there is a spike in cases or deaths, it may be necessary to move back to stricter measures,” officials said.

Slightly more than 50% of city residents have been fully vaccinated, according to Nola Ready, a joint city and Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness website.

Phase two would include advanced restrictions on “higher-risk operations.” Last year, the designation included a public mask requirement and stay-at-home advisory with few exceptions other than attending to “essential needs.”

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome of East Baton Rouge Parish continues to embrace mask requirements in Louisiana’s most populous parish. Local “Phase 3” protocols also include 75% maximum occupancy and required social distancing in restaurants, salons, spas and other businesses. Places of worship have no capacity limits.

Edwards urged businesses statewide to accommodate employees in ways that reduce COVID-19 risk, such as working from home. He also implored testing and vaccinations.

“The White House has notified Louisiana that we are a State of Concern because we are the leading edge of the COVID-19 surge, due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant among the unvaccinated in our state. Indeed, Louisiana leads the nation in case growth, with 47 cases per capita,” Edwards said.

Louisiana was rated the nation’s least “safest state” with respect to COVID-19, according to one recent study. Across five key metrics, Louisiana ranked 50th in vaccination rate, 49th in death rate, 42nd in positive testing rate, 46th in hospitalization rate and 29th in transmission rate.

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