SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Governor John Bel Edwards says Louisiana still has work to do before considering ending the mask mandate.
Edwards made the comments during a visit to a vaccine site at LSU Health Shreveport Tuesday morning, inside the lobby of LSU Health and Sciences Center in Shreveport, the first full day after the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine and one week before the governor’s mask order is set to expire.
“I don’t think anybody should anticipate we will lose the mask mandate,” said Gov. Edwards. “We just simply haven’t made enough progress. It appears the numbers are starting to come in to show that we have arrested the worsening. We have kind of flattened out about two weeks after this mandate went into place, which is what you would expect. We’ve got a ways to go.”
The governor’s visit to the Shreveport vaccination clinic Tuesday came as 139 deaths were reported statewide, marking the highest number of COVID-19 deaths reported in Louisiana in a single day since the pandemic began.
According to the governor, “Our hospitals are absolutely maxed out.” Edwards said almost 2,900 people are hospitalized with COVID across the state, when at the peak of previous surges, the number was less than 2,100.
The governor once again attributed those high numbers to the low vaccination rates in the state, saying 91% of the hospitalized COVID patients in Louisiana hospitals are unvaccinated.
He said following the recent mask mandate, the number of infections have flattened somewhat, and in the last few days, state-wide hospitalizations were reduced by 170, “the first time in several weeks that we’ve actually gone the other way.”
“We still are in a very precarious place in Louisiana,” said Edwards. “If the full authorization of the FDA means more people will get it, then they should, and they should do it in a hurry.”
Colleges and universities – including LSU – had already received approval to mandate vaccinations on their campuses upon full FDA approval, and Edwards says he expects the Louisiana Department of Health to move soon to add it to the list of vaccinations required to attend public schools.
“Now that we have FDA approval, LDH can move to add the COVID vaccine to the schedule of mandated vaccines for K through 12 and higher ed, for example. That’s pretty standard,” Edwards said, noting there are opt-out provisions that will continue to apply.
The FDA has not yet approved any vaccine for those under the age of twelve.
While his office on Monday released stricter guidelines for state employees, it fell short of mandating vaccinations.
At least eight employees in the governor’s office have tested positive for COVID since July 30.
Edwards did not say whether he planned on vaccination mandates for state employees, but said now that the vaccine is FDA approved, “We owe it to all our workforce and people coming into state offices in the state of Louisiana have to have a safe environment.”
He added that when employees chose not to be vaccinated, “We have to make sure they’re tested more frequently.”