In an attempt to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. John Bel Edwards has announced he will issue a statewide mask mandate that will go into effect on Monday, July 13.
People 8 years of age and older will be required to wear face masks both indoors and outdoors when social distancing from people outside of one’s immediate household is not possible, though there are some exceptions, Edwards said.
Along with requiring face masks, bars with and without food permits will now be closed to on-site consumption but may still offer curbside service. Indoor social gatherings will also be limited to 50 people or less.
Edwards will sign the newest proclamation sometime Saturday, and the changes will be in effect until the end of Phase Two, which is currently set to expire on July 24 unless it is extended again.
“It’s become clear, to me, especially after the numbers we saw yesterday that our current restrictions are not enough,” Edwards said.
Edwards made the announcement in a rare Saturday press conference, citing the state’s recent case growth and increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations as the reason behind the move. Both cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise over the last few weeks as the state has reopened more of the economy.
On Saturday, Louisiana reported 2,167 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 76,803.
This comes one day after health officials confirmed 2,642 new cases — the most since April 2 and “the single largest daily increase not attributable to a backlog since the beginning of the outbreak in Louisiana.”
The surge in new cases over the last two days continues the state’s rapid case growth that began in mid-June after nearly two months of declining cases and hospital admissions.
When Louisiana reported 1,356 new cases on June 23, that marked the first time since April 9 that health officials reported more than 1,000 cases in a single day. Since June 23, that has happened 12 times — including seven times of at least 1,800 new cases since July 1.
And after dropping to as low as No. 10 in the nation in cases per capita, Louisiana has crept back up to No. 3, behind only New York and New Jersey.
The rapid case growth can’t be explained away by an increase in testing, according to Dr. Joe Kanter, one of three medical experts Edwards invited to speak to the state during Saturday’s press conference.
Kanter said that the state had a positivity rate (the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive) of 15.3 percent from June 22 - July 5. The state’s goal, which was vetted by the Center for Disease Control and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, is 10 percent or lower.
“This is about the preservation of human life,” Kanter said after voicing his support for the new mitigation measures.
Like cases, COVID-19 hospitalizations have also been on the rise since dropping as low as 542 statewide on June 13. In less than a month since, they’ve more than doubled, increasing by 640 as of Saturday.
A key factor in the state’s reopening plan, hospitalizations have increased in 20 of the last 24 LDH updates. Over the last two days, the state has confirmed 140 COVID-19 hospitalizations to bring the statewide total to 1,182, the most since May 14.
“We are overwhelmed,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal of Our Lady of the Lake, one of three medical experts Edwards invited to speak to the state during Saturday’s press conference.
Though face masks will be required for anyone 8 years and older, there are a few exceptions, which are:
-- If someone has a medical condition that makes it difficult to wear a mask
-- If someone is talking to a person who is hearing impaired
-- If someone is consuming food or drink
-- If someone is giving a speech for broadcast or before an audience
-- If someone is temporarily removing the face covering for identification purposes
-- If someone is a resident of a parish without a high incidence rate (only applies to Grant, Red River, West Feliciana parishes)
Along with requiring face masks, Edwards will effectively be closing down bars when he signs his new executive order. Bars were allowed to reopen in Phase Two but could only allow 25 percent capacity, compared to 50 percent for all other businesses.
However, through contact tracing, health officials have identified bars as a “hotspot” for spreading COVID-19. At least 36 outbreaks impacting at least 405 people have been connected to bars since Phase Two began June 5.
“Closing bars is not the step I wanted to take,” Edwards said. “But the reality is… bars have proven to be hotspots for the spread of COVID. Probably not true for every bar, but it is true for many of them.”
Indoor gatherings will be now limited to 50 or less, down from 250 that Edwards announced when he signed an order keeping the state under Phase Two for an additional 28 days. Edwards said this pertains only to social gatherings and not businesses, as health experts have “good reason to believe” that “informal backyard gatherings” are a large spreader of the disease.
“If you’re gonna have these informal gatherings, we really encourage you to keep them as small as you can, wear masks, social distance, and have them outdoors,” Edwards said.
Edwards acknowledged that his decision to require face masks, close bars, and limit social gatherings will “be unpopular and controversial,” but he described the new mitigation measures as “minor prices to pay in the grand scheme of things.”
“I know that some of what I’m announcing is gonna be challenging for some, unpopular for others,” he said. “But it is the necessary thing to do. It is the right thing to do under the circumstances. That’s why we’re gonna do it.”