By William Patrick | The Center Square
Gov. John Bel Edwards has ended Louisiana’s statewide indoor mask mandate, but not for K-12 schools.
Edwards announced the decision Tuesday during a news conference in Baton Rouge, one day before his Aug. 3 executive order mandating masks in businesses, schools, government buildings, college campuses and other public spaces was set to expire.
Edwards cited a sustained reduction in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the reason for lifting his mask requirement.
“Today, I am cautiously optimistic and very relieved that the worst of this fourth surge of COVID is clearly behind us, which is a direct result of the people of Louisiana who stepped up to the plate when we needed them to and put their masks back on, got vaccinated, and took extra precautions to stay safe,” Edwards said. “That’s why we are able to lift the statewide mask mandate.”
Masks still will be mandated by federal regulation, including on mass transit and in health care facilities. Local governments and private businesses also may choose to continue requiring masks, Edwards said.
The updated order extends to K-12 schools unless school districts continue implementing existing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine guidance, which Edwards offered as a way to “opt out.”
“While the K-12 mask mandate will be in place, school districts can opt out if they follow the existing, evidence-based CDC quarantine guidance,” Edwards said. “This new order does offer a way for local leaders to end the school mask mandate, if they so choose.”
CDC guidance for K-12 settings requires asymptomatic children who may have been within 6 feet of someone infected with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes in a 24-hour period to quarantine for 14 days after exposure.
The two-week period may be shortened in certain circumstances, such as when a child tests negative five to seven days after exposure.
Edwards said he is welcoming COVID-19 vaccinations for children as a way forward.
“We know that many of our children can’t yet be vaccinated, though we have our fingers crossed that within the next couple of weeks vaccines will be available for children 5 and older,” Edwards said. “If that happens, then virtually the entire K-12 population will be eligible.”