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Gov. Edwards announces mask mandate, closes bars under updated COVID-19 emergency order


BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Saturday that he will be signing a new executive order expanding restrictions under the current Phase 2 order, including a statewide mask mandate.

“It’s become clear to me especially after the numbers we saw yesterday that our current restrictions are not enough,” Edwards said at a news conference. “Closing bars are not a step I wanted to take, but bars have proven to be a hotspot for the spread of the coronavirus.”

Under the order, masks will be mandatory statewide unless medical condition makes it difficult to wear a mask. The governor said it will be effective both indoors and outdoors, whenever physically distancing from others is not possible.

The order will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday and is set to expire July 24, 2020, but could be extended.

Face coverings will be required for everyone ages 8 and older except for the following:

  • 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
  • Anyone who is a resident of a parish without a high COVID incidence that has opted out of the masking mandate
  • Masks are strongly recommended for children ages 2 to 7.

“While I had hoped to avoid going backwards on restrictions, it is obvious that it is necessary to slow the spread of infection in our state, as COVID-19 has spread to every corner, at a level higher than we have previously seen,” Edwards said of issuing the additional order.

The mandate will apply in all parishes that don’t have a high incidence of COVID-19 as defined by the CDC. As of Saturday, only Grant, Red River, and West Feliciana parishes would be eligible to opt out. Edwards said he still encourages people in those parishes to mask up.

“We are going to require businesses to tell people they have to have a mask on. Businesses are going to be allowed to accept a representation from someone that they meet one of those categories of exemption,” Edwards explained. “But other than placing law enforcement officers at every business or at every office building and so forth, there’s just no other way to do it. And we’re not gonna be out there with a goal to write citations.

We really want people obviously to comply with the mandate. We want businesses to make a real effort to put signs up, encourage people to put the mask on if you wanna do that. And if someone doesn’t meet one of the exemptions and refuses to wear the mask, they should be asked to leave. And at that point and time, if they don’t leave, they’re trespassing. So that’s how we look to enforce this.”

All bars will be closed for on-premise consumption in Louisiana. All drinks have to be to-go. That includes those with food permits.

Asserting that informal backyard gatherings such as parties and barbecues have become a source of viral spread, Edwards also announced that indoor social gatherings will be limited to 50 people, and outdoor gatherings will have to observe social distancing.

All of the Phase 2 requirements related to occupancy will remain in place for commercial businesses whether they are essential or non-essential, and noted that the limitation on social gatherings will apply only to bars or any commercial establishments that offer indoor venues for social gatherings.

“We cannot let this illness win,” Edwards said. “If you want to keep the economy open, not go back to phase one, open schools next month, these are minor prices to pay, especially those who don’t like putting on a face cover.”

The announcement comes as the state’s cumulative cases rise by another 2,167 and 23 more deaths are reported, and the positivity rate continues to climb.

“As recently as June 19, Louisiana was number ten in the country in per capita cases. Today, we’re number three,” said Edwards. “We cannot risk losing our capacity to deliver hospital care.”

“This massive increase in admissions was not expected,” said Our Lady of the Lake Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Catherine O’Neal. “What we expected was to see a slow community spread, because people were still social distancing and masking, but that wasn’t occurring and now we are overwhelmed. We have too many people in the hospital. Our hospitals are full. When our hospitals get full, just like we talked about before, it is incredibly hard to provide care for everybody.”

Dr. O’Neal described a 25-year-old patient who had no prior medical conditions when he entered the hosital and is now in ICU. In fact, O’Neal said, a third of the patients at OLOL are now in the ICU, and they include people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.

“Those patients require a tremendous amount of care. When you admit them they look pretty good and they need some oxygen. And when they get to their bed on the floor, their fighting for their life and we’re rushing them into the ICU. And this is a nightly occurrence in the hospital.”

O’Neal also noted that the latest spike in hospitalizations impacts the care of all those needing critical medical care, not just COVID-19 patients.

“One of our palliative care doctors shared with me this week that she saw a patient in clinic this week whose surgery was put off in February and again in March and again in April. And by the time that patient was diagnosed, they had metastatic disease and they are no longer capable of having a cure for their cancer.”

The newly confirmed cases brought the statewide total to 76,803 on Saturday and 3,295 people have now died from the coronavirus, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

The newly confirmed cases came from the results of 19,199 tests reported to the state health department since Friday. Of those tests, 11.29 percent came back positive. Edwards noted Saturday that the positivity rate has been over ten percent for most of the week.

95 percent of the cases reported to the state Saturday were community spread, according to LDH. 35 percent of those were among individuals aged 29 and under.

“I have no reason today to believe the numbers we’re reporting today will get any better” for at least another few weeks, Edwards said.

“We should take advantage of this opportunity we have. And by the way, this opportunity isn’t gonna last forever. If we want to bend the curve again and get this back under control without having to go back to Phase 1 or to Phase 0, now is our time. Don’t wait till tomorrow, don’t wait till next week or next month, because we won’t have any time left at that point.”

Statewide, hospitalizations for the coronavirus rose by another 65 to 1,182. The number of patients on ventilators remains relatively flat, dropping by one to 121.

The number of hospitalizations in Region 7 rose to new heights on Saturday, climbing to 241.

164 of the new cases reported Saturday were in NWLA, including 63 in Caddo Parish and 35 more in Bossier. There are also 25 new cases reported in Natchitoches and 13 more in Sabine.

The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Caddo Parish rose to 247 Friday. The coroner’s office released an update Thursday night noting that the average age of those who have died rose to 72.9, with the oldest victim age 104 and youngest 22.

Bossier also added another death, bringing the total to 38.

As of noon Saturday, July 11, the LDH was reporting the following data on confirmed cases, deaths, and testing in Northwest Louisiana: 

  • Caddo  – 4,276 case(s)  |  247 death(s)  |  579 state tests  | 69,515 commercial tests
  • Bossier  –  1,254 case(s)  |  38 death(s)  | 261 state tests  |27,541 commercial tests
  • De Soto  – 423 case(s)  |  20 death(s)  |  76 state tests  | 5,758 commercial tests
  • Webster  –  528 case(s)  | 12 death(s)  | 177 state tests  |  8,554 commercial tests
  • Claiborne  –  147 case(s)  |  10 death(s)  |  100 state tests  | 2,680 commercial tests
  • Bienville  –  261 case(s)  |  28 death(s)  |  219 state tests  |  3,267 commercial tests
  • Natchitoches  –  401 case(s)  |  14 death(s)  | 338 state tests  |  5,223 commercial tests
  • Sabine  –  194 case(s)  |  1 death(s)  |  188 state tests  |  3,380 commercial tests
  • Red River  –  78 case(s)  |  9 death(s)  |  59 state tests  |  1,079 commercial tests

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.

If you have a fever or cough, you might have COVID-19. Most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home. Keep track of your symptoms. If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), get medical attention right away.

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