Louisiana restored its statewide indoor mask mandate on Monday amid a dramatic surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, with the governor saying the state was in the worst phase of the pandemic thus far.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said the reinstated rules will go into effect on Wednesday, a move that emphasizes the growing threat of the delta strain of the coronavirus, a highly transmissible variant that has dampened the hopes of a return to normal nationwide.
The mask mandate will apply to all people age 5 and older in indoor public places, regardless of vaccination status, and will remain in place until at least Sept. 1.
“This is bad. And it’s not this bad anywhere else in the country today,” Bel Edwards said during a news briefing. “It has become extremely clear that our current recommendations on their own are not strong enough to deal with Louisiana’s fourth surge of COVID. In fact, nobody should be laboring under the misapprehension that this just another surge. This is the worst one we’ve had.”
The governor had lifted the state’s mask order in April, but left open the door to reinstate social distancing guidelines should the pandemic intensify. On Monday, he pointed to statistics that show just that: Louisiana has the most new coronavirus cases per capita in the United States and the chief medical officer of the state’s largest hospital said there were “no more beds left.”
“When you come inside our walls, it is quite obvious to you that these are the darkest days of this pandemic,” Dr. Catherine O’Neal, who runs Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, said Monday. She said COVID-19 hospitalizations had risen from 36 to 155 at her facility in two weeks and now occupy around a quarter of the hospital’s total number of beds.
“We are no longer giving adequate care to these patients,” she added. “That has also stopped.”
O’Neal went on to say that vaccination remained one of the most effective tools to prevent severe cases of COVID-19 that led to hospitalization or death, echoing the nation’s top public health officials that have urged Americans to get jabbed. More than 70% of adults in the U.S. have had at least one shot but rates are lagging in many areas, prompting renewed concern about the surge in cases.
Louisiana has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Only 43% of residents have had at least one dose of a vaccine, and only 37% are fully inoculated. Bel Edwards said those figures would have to dramatically shift to help the state lift itself out of those dark days.
“We have the tools we need to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and save lives, and I am pleading with unvaccinated Louisianans to get their shot as soon as they can to protect themselves,” the governor said. “We can end this nightmare, but it is going to take all of us working together to do it.”