By David Jacobs | The Center Square
Gov. John Bel Edwards has ordered Louisiana’s COVID-19 mitigation restrictions to be loosened further Wednesday, including eliminating the statewide mask mandate.
Local governments and private businesses are free to continue requiring face coverings. Schools, universities, health care facilities, public transit and most state government buildings will continue to require masks, though agency heads can request a waiver. Edwards said agencies led by his cabinet appointees will continue to require masks.
Limits on the number of people who can gather outdoors will be lifted. Organizers of indoor events, including sporting events, can choose 75% occupancy with distancing or full occupancy with masks, Edwards said Tuesday. At least 10 feet should be maintained between the stage and the audience during live music performances, according to the new mandates.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends masks and distancing indoors, so businesses and schools that want to maintain the COVID-19 liability protections state lawmakers granted them last year should continue to follow those guidelines, Edwards said.
A consistently low baseline of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and the wide availability of vaccines allows state officials to take these steps, Edwards said.
“Lower risk does not mean no risk,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter with the Louisiana Department of Health. “We have the tools now to protect ourselves and protect our families.”
Edwards and Kanter said a way to think about risk is by using the “two out of three” rule. Being outdoors, distanced and/or masked all reduce risk, and when at least two of the factors are in place, a situation is reasonably safe, officials said.
Effective vaccines are the most important tool, officials said. While COVID-19-related deaths still are happening – 10 new ones were announced Tuesday –vaccine availability is helping to keep those numbers down.
About 26% of Louisiana residents, about 1.2 million, are fully vaccinated, including about 67% of people who are at least 65 years old.
“That’s not where we need to be,” Edwards said of the vaccination rate. “It is a good start.”