Days after hinting at the possibility, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued a statewide mask mandate, requiring residents to wear masks in public spaces and businesses like bars and restaurants. It follows a similar announcement by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Friday, July 30, in which she upgraded what was previously a mask advisory to an indoor mask mandate for Orleans Parish.
“Nobody should be laboring under the misapprehension that this is just another surge,” said Gov. Edwards of state COVID rates during an afternoon press conference before announcing the mask mandate. “This is the worst one we’ve had thus far.”
Louisiana is currently leading a nationwide surge of the highly-contagious delta variant strain of COVID-19, with hospitalizations in the state reaching never-before-seen levels as of Monday, August 2. As of Friday, July 30, 90.4 percent of new COVID-19 cases, 89.3 percent of hospitalizations, and 85 percent of deaths were among among those who were not fully vaccinated, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
In New Orleans, city officials announced its new mask mandate on Friday shortly after the governor finished a press conference in which he said he was “seriously considering” a statewide mask mandate. In the last week, a number of local businesses have chosen to institute their own admission policies, beginning with DJ Melissa “DJ Soul Sister” Weber for her shows at Hi-Ho Lounge followed by a collective policy announced by music venues Tipitina’s, D.B.A., and the Maple Leaf Bar that they would require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of admission.
Since then, the Maple Leaf and another top music venue, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, announced they will close for the next two weeks after employees tested positive for COVID-19. Late last week, a number of New Orleans restaurants instituted similar policies, including Riverbend restaurant Cowbell, via an update to their Google business listing, and French Quarter bubbles bar Effervescence, announced via Instagram on Friday. Both businesses are requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining only.
Gov. Edwards first issued a statewide mask mandate in July 2020, dropping it in April 2021 and deferring to local governments to set their own rules; New Orleans followed suit and dropped its mask mandate a few weeks later in May 2021. At the end of May, Gov. Edwards ended most remaining COVID restrictions in Louisiana. He issued a mask advisory on Friday, July 23, and implied an impending mandate in his last address to the public, on Friday, July 30. When asked about enforcement for the mask mandate during the press conference on Monday, Gov. Edwards said, “we’re not going to enforce our way through this.”
The new statewide mask mandate is effective Wednesday, August 2 and will be in place until at least September 1. State health officer Dr. Joseph Kanter, when he spoke during the press conference Monday, pleaded with Louisiana residents: “Take this mask mandate seriously. We did not come to it lightly.”