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Edwards loosens COVID restrictions based on Louisiana's numbers

Edwards 2-18-21
Posted at 10:54 AM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 18:49:40-04

Mask mandates are now up to local businesses and governments, Governor Edwards said today.

Masks will be required on public transit, in state buildings and at all schools, he said. Any business can decide not to follow the mandate, but of course any citizen is free to wear their mask where ever they like, he said. Edwards said his staff and offices will continue to use the mandate, he said.

There also is a loosening of restrictions on outside events, and increases event facility capacity limits, he said. There's no restriction on crowd sizes outside, and event facilities can chose between 75 percent capacity without mask enforcement, or 100 percent capacity with mask enforcement.

Instead, he and his health officials pleaded with Louisiana's citizens to get vaccinated, and if you have been vaccinated, to think of yourself as an "ambassador" and help others get their shot.

If you want to read the proclamation, which takes effect tomorrow, click here.

Here's a tweet that explains the changes in the mask mandate:

Edwards announced the changes to COVID-19 restriction in the state, which takes effect tomorrow, during a Tuesday press conference.

Overall, from a high level, we continue to see several months now of sustained improvement in hospitalizations," the governor said, adding that the availability of vaccinations also continues to be positive.

"I think you're going to see there are, over the past couple of weeks, some small increases in the incidence of COVID in Louisiana, which should concern all of us when you put it in the context of the variants that are out there," the governor said. "Our baseline numbers, though, continue to be low, and in the grand scheme of things, relatively flat."

Because decisions were made in the past to keep restrictions in place based on high baselines, the low baselines are justification for further steps to reduce restrictions, he said. The steeply declining deaths among older people is also a good sign, and it's now been a month since the vaccine has been open to everybody 16 and over, he said.

More than 67 percent of older people are vaccinated now, he said, and that's good but it is not where we need to be. It's a "good start," he said. He said everyone 16 and over in Louisiana needs to get vaccinated, he said. The data out of Louisiana's nursing homes shows that the vaccine works.

Edwards said any revision of the mask mandate does not mean the end of mask-wearing.

"When in doubt, the first thing you ask is, is everyone around me vaccinated," Edwards said. "If you don't know, and you're not sure, make sure you are as safe as you can be by using the "two of three" rule. You need to be two out of three: outdoors, distanced or masked."

Dr. Joseph Kanter, assistant secretary of the Office of Public Health, said vaccinations are the best way to "end" the virus. He said people who aren't vaccinated and have questions can ask their own doctor or health care provider, or they can call 1-855-453-0774 and get their questions answered. He said that hotline is manned Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. and on Sundays from noon until 8 p.m. You can make an appointment to get a shot using that number, or you can talk to a medical professional who can answer questions, he said.

If you live in Acadiana, here's a story about the sites that are offering shots this week.

Breakthrough cases, or positive cases after full vaccination, are being tracked in the state. Kanter says that in the US 7,157 breakthrough cases have been reported. 367 case have been reported in Louisiana which is 0.03 percent fully vaccinated people.

The UK variant continues to be the only variant found in the state. Vaccinations are still believed to be able to protected against this variant.

Governor Edwards reminds business owners that they can receive specific information on OpenSafely.gov where they can find more information on guidelines still in place. He asks that residents realize that the easing of the mask mandate does not indicate that the pandemic is over. "It is not," he said.

Businesses will still be able to enforce masking and the public should be ready to comply with those requests from business owners and locations that still require a mask. Edwards says that his decision to lift the mask mandate for certain businesses came from the data that shows Louisiana is doing much better.

"I believe now is the time to lift the mandate, but continuing to encourage people to mask if they are vulnerable or not vaccinated," he said. "I am hopeful and optimistic that residents will continue to respond."

On a question as to whether Governor Edwards thinks that colleges/universities should require the vaccine to enroll in schooling, Edwards says that he believes at some point in the future, he would expect schools may require students to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination for enrollment. Edwards says he can not speculate if that would happen in the near future but does ask that those who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated.

"We are working with higher education to make sure that people get vaccinated," he said.

Nationally, President Biden announced a change on masking in outdoor spaces according to CDC guidelines. See the latest here.

Here's the governor's complete press release on today's changes:

Following months of sustained improvement in COVID hospitalizations and an increase in the supply and availability of vaccines, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that some mitigation measures will be eased and, starting Wednesday, April 28, the statewide mask mandate will be lifted.

Mask policies in Louisiana will be set by local leaders and business owners. Under the Governor’s new public health order, masks will still be required on public transit and in state government buildings, K-12 schools, early childhood education centers, colleges and universities, and healthcare facilities.

More than one in four Louisianans are now fully vaccinated, including two-thirds of those 65 and older. The state of Louisiana joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal and medical officials in recommending that people wear masks in public or when they are with unvaccinated people outside of their households.

All Louisianans 16 and older have been eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine for more than a month and Louisiana was one of the first states to broaden vaccine eligibility to the full population. The three safe and effective COVID vaccines are widely available in Louisiana.

“Many Louisianans have been wearing masks for more than a year now and the statewide mask mandate has been in place for nearly 10 months. We know masks work – the science is clear and we’ve seen the positive impact in our own state. It’s intuitive for people to protect themselves with masks in higher risk situations, and this important mitigation measure should continue. But we have many more tools for slowing the spread of COVID than we did even a few months ago, including better treatments and, most importantly, several highly effective and safe vaccines,” Gov. Edwards said. “I want to be clear: this is not the end of wearing masks in public, as COVID-19 and the spread of variants are still a real threat in our communities. Louisianans should respect each other and businesses and places where masks will be required as we move into a new phase of slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. I will continue to wear a mask in government buildings and in public, especially when I do not know if someone around me has been vaccinated, and I encourage everyone to do this as well.”

The order the Governor signed Tuesday also eases restrictions on live music and allows some businesses, like salons, to re-open their waiting areas. Outdoor events will no longer have crowd limitations.

Social distancing and masking are recommended by both the state of Louisiana and the CDC.

Lifting of the mask mandate does not affect the COVID-19 liability protections that were enacted by the Louisiana Legislature which require businesses and schools to follow the recommendations of state and federal health authorities, all of which recommend continued mask wearing.

For theaters, event spaces, festivals and fairs and other outdoor events, there will be no limitations on outdoor capacity. Indoors, a facility may choose to operate at 75 percent capacity while enforcing six feet of social distancing or at 100 percent capacity with masking required and enforced.

For indoor sporting events, capacity is limited to 75 percent of capacity with social distancing, or 100 percent capacity if a mask mandate is enforced at the venue. Capacity will not be limited outdoors.

For live music, new regulations will require 10 feet of space between the stage and the audience and crowds must be seated. Bars will still only be open to those 21 and older.

State agencies may choose to opt-out of the mask mandate for state-owned buildings in writing to the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and also must inform people entering the building that masks are not mandatory. All state agencies in the Governor’s cabinet and under the Governor’s authority will keep their mask mandates.

The Department of Health additionally will issue a state health officer order that will mandate masks in all health care facilities.

MASKING RECOMMENDATIONS
The Louisiana Department of Health recommends that the public follow the “Two out of Three” rule to keep themselves safe during COVID.

When in doubt about whether to wear a mask at a certain activity where people outside of a person’s everyday household will be present, they can stay safe by:

  1. Making sure everyone around them is vaccinated, or
  2. Maintaining the 2 out of 3 Rule: To lower risk for COVID-19, make sure the activity meets two out of the following three conditions: Outdoors, Distanced and Masked.
  • Outdoors + Distanced = No Mask Recommended
  • Outdoors + Not Distanced = Mask Recommended
  • Indoor + Distanced = Mask Recommended

Residents can call the Bring Back Louisiana COVID-19 vaccine hotline at 1-855-453-0774 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. The hotline can help residents schedule vaccine appointments, find vaccine providers in their area and connect people with medical professionals who can answer vaccine-related questions.
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