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Louisiana Gov. Edwards says ‘bad actors,’ not loosened restrictions, are driving COVID-19 increase

Gov. John Bel Edwards explains the tax structure rewrite he's proposing for the upcoming legislative session, on Wednesday in Baton Rouge.

(The Center Square) – Lack of compliance by “bad actors,” not loosening restrictions, is driving Louisiana’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday.

“The state of Louisiana needs more compliance,” he said. “If you don’t want to impose more restrictions, we’re going to have to get better compliance with our current restrictions and our current mitigation methods.”

Edwards said state regulators will “do a more robust job” enforcing the rules, doing “courtesy visits” to businesses and explaining what they have to do to get in compliance if they aren’t already. Those still not complying when officials make follow-up visits could face consequences.

“We’re not going to allow the bad actors to require the entire state of Louisiana to move backwards,” he said. “I don’t want to shut a single business down. Not one. But I will do that.”

Of the various mitigation methods the state is urging people to practice, perhaps most important is wearing a mask, Edwards said. Scientists say that covering the mouth and nose makes it much less likely that a person who is carrying the virus but not yet feeling symptoms will pass it to someone else.

“My mask protects you,” Dr. Alex Billioux with the state Office of Public Health has often said. “Your mask protects me.”

The general public is urged to wear masks but are not required to do so under the governor’s executive order. Businesses are required to have their workers who deal with the public wear masks.

Maintaining physical distance from people who are not part of your household also is important, state and federal health officials say, especially indoors. Under Louisiana’s current guidelines, most businesses are limited to 50 percent of their normal capacity, while bars that don’t serve food are limited to 25 percent. Edwards’ updated order, issued Thursday, bans indoor gatherings of more than 250 people.

Louisiana is not “anywhere close currently” to exceeding health care capacity.

“But we are headed in that direction,” Edwards said.

Louisiana on June 1 moved into “phase two” of the White House-approved road map for loosening restrictions to control the pandemic. On Monday, Edwards announced that Louisiana would not move to the next phase because it did not meet federal standards to do so. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House coronavirus task force, supports his decision, Edwards said.

Louisiana House Republicans have begun circulating a petition to override the governor’s public health emergency declaration, citing the economic damage caused by the restrictions. Many of the Republicans who are most adamant about lifting restrictions, do not wear masks inside the capitol, which many staff members and other legislators find frustrating.

At least 3,077 Louisiana residents have been killed by COVID-19, the Louisiana Department of Health says. As of noon Friday, 54,769 cases had been reported, and officials believed 39,792 patients had recovered. There were 700 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, and 73 of them were on ventilators.

David Jacobs, Staff Reporter for the Center Square, is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business, and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.