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Masks mandatory in Louisiana, bars closed starting today

NEW ORLEANS — Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a statewide mask mandate and new restrictions for bars across Louisiana in a press conference this past weekend, hours after the second coronavirus update in as many days showed more than 2,000 new cases.

The restrictions went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning.

Saturday’s increase, 2,167 new COVID-19 cases, is the third-largest since the outbreak began in Louisiana on March 9. The second highest, which was Friday, is only topped by an early April update that included an unspecified number of backlogged cases.

“Yesterday we had our highest day ever of new cases,” Edwards said. “It’s become clear to me especially after the number we saw yesterday that our current restrictions are not enough.”

His update, in a rare Saturday press conference announced on short notice, focused on an executive mandate that all people over 8 years old wear masks throughout the state, unless they have a serious medical condition that would prohibit them from wearing one.

The mask mandate encompasses the outdoors as well. Anybody within six feet of a non-immediate household member must wear a mask whether they are outdoors or inside.

Parishes will be able to opt-out of the mask mandate if they meet a low-case criteria of fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people over a 2-week period.

As of Saturday, Edwards said, only three parishes meet the requirement. Those are Grant, West Feliciana and Red River parishes.

“Whether they opt-out or not is going to be a decision for them, but it is still strongly encouraged that everybody who is able to….wear a mask,” Edwards said.

The mask mandate will mirror those already in place in East Baton Rouge, Jefferson and Orleans parishes.

Edwards pushed back against what he called a partisan divide over the idea of wearing a mask, saying that in Louisiana and across the country, he has seen behavior he can’t understand.

“There has been a political dynamic that has emerged around the whole issue of masks,” Edwards said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Masks are an effective barrier against COVID-19, but have become a cultural flashpoint among some people who say being forced to wear them while in public spaces infringes on the freedom to choose how to protect themselves, or those who simply don’t like the uncomfortable feeling of a face covering.

Edwards sympathized with those people, but addressed them in no uncertain terms:

“We know that facemasks work. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “It is the necessary thing to do. It is the right thing to do under the circumstances. That is why we’re going to do it. We are not going to let this virus win….I don’t like it, but at the end of the day I know it’s the right thing to do.”

Bars also have new restrictions on them. At any establishment with a liquor license in Louisiana, customers will be unable to drink on the premise. They will have to take their drinks to-go, through curbside pickup.

Bars have come under increased scrutiny recently by health experts for their role in spreading the virus.

“In Phase 0 and Phase 1, bars were closed,” Edwards said. “So all of this has happened in Phase 2.”

Indoor gatherings will also be limited to a max of 50 people, Edwards said.