Student wearing mask

A student exits a school bus in August 2020.

Gov. John Bel Edwards sent a letter to the state superintendent of education to clarify confusion over the reinstated mask mandate, confusion Edwards said was created by another letter sent by the Attorney General Jeff Landry that “ignores the dangerous fourth surge of COVID-19.”

In his letter to Superintendent Cade Brumley, Edwards expressed his reasoning for the indoor mask mandate and also listed the exceptions, which he said were “essentially the same” as those in place for the entirety of the 2020-21 school year.

Edwards blamed most of the confusion on a letter sent by Landry this week that led some parents to question who is exempt from the mask mandate.

In his own letter dated Aug. 4, Edwards reiterated that the statewide mandate requires face coverings for everyone age 5 or older or enrolled in kindergarten, except for the following:

-- Any individual who will not come in contact with any other individual (outside of their immediate household members) or who will be able to maintain strict social distancing of six feet apart from any other individual (outside of their immediate household members)

-- Anyone who has a medical condition that prevents the wearing of a face covering

-- Anyone who is consuming a drink or food

-- Anyone who is trying to communicate with a person who is hearing impaired

-- Anyone who is giving a speech for broadcast or to an audience

-- Anyone temporarily removing his or her face covering for identification purposes

-- Any athlete participating in organized athletic activities

-- Any children under the age of 5 not enrolled in a kindergarten program

Though not required, face masks are “strongly encouraged” for children ages 2-4.

K-12 schools and colleges across the state return to campus over the next few weeks. The mask mandate is in effect until at least Sept. 1 and could be extended.

“I very much appreciate your efforts, and the heroic work of educators in this challenging time,” Edwards wrote in the letter. “By adopting these measures - and ignoring those that are unwilling to acknowledge the current crisis - we can keep our kids in school this year and keep them safe.”

On Monday, Edwards reissued a statewide mask mandate for everyone 5 years of age and older, citing the alarming rise in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Louisiana currently has the highest growth rate of new COVID-19 cases in the country, ranking No. 1 in new cases per capita.

The surge in cases has led to an unprecedented influx of hospital admissions. On Thursday, the state broke its record for most COVID-19 hospitalizations at one time for the third straight day, with 2,350 reported across the state.

Since July 2, hospitalizations have risen by 2,091, or roughly 61.5 per day.

Earlier this week, Landry provided Department of Justice employees information on how they could get around the mandate to “express their religious and philosophical concerns regarding masks and vaccines.”

Landry publicly released the framework documents given to his employees via his social media feeds Tuesday.

The governor and attorney general have been at odds over a slew of issues during the pandemic. 

On Thursday, Edwards publicly released the letter he sent to Brumley the day before, saying Landry’s original letter “seeks to undermine public confidence in one of the most effective tools to combat it.”

“At this time, children under age 12 are not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but wearing a mask has proven to be one of the most effective tools we have for slowing the transmission of this virus,” Edwards wrote.

Edwards noted that, “unlike many other states,” Louisiana had “a relatively safe and successful in-person year last year,” which he credited to mask-wearing.

“The need for this school year to start with our students wearing face coverings has only been made clearer since I announced this order on Monday,” Edwards said. “We are in, as Dr. Catherine O'Neal at Our Lady of the Lake stated in the Monday press conference, ‘the darkest days of the pandemic.’

“Our hospitals throughout the State are at capacity and are having to turn away COVID and nonCOVID patients alike. We simply must reverse the trajectory we are on - and right now. We can and will see our way through this darkness, but it will only be through more vaccinations and masking in public places in this critical time.”

To read Edwards’ letter to Brumley, click here.

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