By William Patrick, The Center Square
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he will not reinstitute a statewide mask mandate amid the current COVID-19 omicron variant surge, but he is looking to local school districts to require masks for K-12 school children.
“I can only tell you the mask mandate makes sense especially in that environment where you’re going to have those young people who have the lowest vaccination rates in the state who have to be in that class and if we want to have in person learning, with the fewest disruptions then we need to control transmissions,” Edwards said.
“I wish more school districts, I wish all of them, would take the recommendations of the office of public health around a mask mandate, but at this point in time, I’m not going to impose that mandate from my position as Governor.”
Edwards made the remarks Thursday afternoon during a news conference aimed at addressing Louisiana’s record single-day COVID-19 case count.
Edwards, along with State Health Officer Joseph Kanter, said 14,077 COVID-19 cases were reported Thursday, an all-time high for a 24-hour period in Louisiana.
“Omicron has taken over,” Edwards said, adding, “We all should be concerned but not panicked.”
The news conference occurred as Louisiana’s K-12 public schools reopened this week after the holiday break. New Orleans Public Schools and East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools are requiring students and staff to wear face coverings at school facilities.
Other large school districts, such as those in Jefferson, Caddo and St. Tammany parishes, are recommending masks but not mandating them.
New Orleans Public Schools also is requiring all students age 5 and older to be fully vaccinated by Feb. 1 unless they have an approved exemption.
The policy follows New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s updated citywide vaccine passport system that now applies to children age 5 and older. New Orleans Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr. endorsed the measure for the city’s 45,000-student school district.
“This requirement is designed to further protect our students, teachers and staff and preserve in-person learning. Families can provide proof of vaccination or sign an exemption waiver for medical, religious or philosophical reasons,” a joint news release said.
East Baton Rouge Parish School District’s mask mandate continued after Edwards lifted his second statewide mask mandate in October. The district will keep the mask mandate in place until at least Jan. 31.
“We have continued to make all public health decisions based upon the most recently available data and based upon the advice of our health care professionals,” Superintendent Sito Narcisse said last week.