Louisiana Mandates Masks, Closes Bars For On-Premise Consumption
Governor John bel Edwards signed an order mandating masks in public spaces in Louisiana and closing all bars for on-premises consumption at least through July 24.
"Face coverings are easy, effective way to protect people from the spread of illness," says Edwards.
As of Monday, July 13 at 12:01 a.m., masks are required in Louisiana for ages 8 and older in public places, except those who have health conditions that make it dangerous to wear one. Masks are not required while consuming food, while commmunicating with the hearing impeared, for brief identification purposes, or while giving a public speech or address.
Residents of a parish without a high incidence of COVID-19 (100 new cases per 100,000 residents over fourteen days) have the opportunity to opt out of the mask requirement. Currently, only three parishes currently meet those requirements; Grant, Red River, and West Feliciana. Each may opt out of the mask mandate with notice to the Governor's Office.
The order also closes bars for on-premise consumption and limits indoor social gatherings to 50 people or fewer. According to Edwards, contact tracing has identified 36 outbreaks effecting over 400 people that have been traced to bars. He explains
"Closing bars is not a step I wanted to take," explains Edwards, "but we've seen that bars are hotspots for spread of the disease." Public officials explain that bars create an environment that makes it more likely to transmit COVID-19, including the length of the visit and the need to speak loudly over music to be heard, thereby potentially spreading the virus through droplets.
All bars will be closed for on-premise consumption. Only “to go” drinks will be available for purchase.
Edwards urged everyone who is able to wear a mask. "If you have a health condition that would keep you from wearing a mask, exercise extreme caution. You are better off at home. You shouldn't be out in public any more than is necessary."
Edwards explained that there is a 14-day lag between any change in behavior and any change in the number of cases; he urged that this change would not be noticed in the daily cases counts until after that two week period has passed.
"If you, like me, want to reopen businesses, if you want to open school next month, these things are minor prices to pay."
As hospitilization numbers rise, Dr. Joe Cantor from the Louisiana Department of Health offered caution in the coming days. "We already have double the number of patients in the hospital than two weeks ago. We have to turn this around."
Cantor urged anyone with underlying health conditions to stay inside.
Dr. Catherine O'Neal of Our Lady of the Lake Health System, says, "We've recently quadrupled the number of people in the hospital. Our hospitals are full, and when hospitals get full, it's incredibly hard to provide care for everyone."
Dr. Rani Whitfield explained further, "We're tuly concerned about overwhelming the health care system as we know it. We've seen an increase in exacerbation of mental health conditions; a lot of anxiety and depression. We cannot be successful in Louisiana without your help. Masking works. It not only protects you, it protects people around you."
Edwards clarified that "the mask mandate is effective both indoors and outdoors when you cannot be physically distant from others."
Edwards warns of citations for business owners not enforcing the mask mandate, however, "We're not going to be out there with a goal to write citations." Businesses are allowed to accept a claim from a patron that they meet the exemption requirements. Edwards noted that businesses should put up signs about the mask requirement. "If someone's not wearing a mask and doesn't meet the exemptiona and refuses to leave, they're trespassing."
Other requirements of the Phase 2 order remain in place until July 24.