Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, lifted the state's mask mandate Tuesday, except in K-12 schools, as the state's number of new COVID-19 infections continues to drop.
''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 in a press release Tuesday announcing the lifting of the mask mandate.
''That's why we are able to lift the statewide mask mandate. 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. This new order does offer a way for local leaders to end the school mask mandate if they so choose.''
According to the release, removing the mandate comes because of a ''sustained improvement across the state in terms of new cases, test positivity and hospitalizations.''
The most recent numbers reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the state with 878 new cases reported Monday, the lowest number since July 12 at the beginning of the state's fourth wave of the disease, when 799 new infections were reported.
More than 7,500 new cases were reported at the height of the delta variant surge on Aug. 13, according to the CDC.
Edwards' new executive order also gives schools a way to opt out of the mandate based on the situation faced by the local district.
''This new order does offer a way for local leaders to end the school mask mandate if they so choose. Let me be clear — Louisiana has been a leader in bringing students safely back into the classroom. And they have done that by following public health guidance including on masking and quarantine.
''Public health experts and I encourage schools to stay that course. But because case numbers are going down and have reached a new baseline, I do believe it's an appropriate time to give schools more autonomy,'' Edwards said.
Masks are still required in healthcare facilities and mass transit per federal regulations, but otherwise will not be mandated in ''most places,'' including government buildings, colleges and universities, and private businesses, according to the state.
''We are encouraged about our current COVID trends but remain mindful of our profound loss as a result of the last surge and cognizant that we will remain vulnerable to an equally damaging surge unless more of our friends, family and neighbors choose to get vaccinated,'' said Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state's health officer.
The order goes into effect Oct. 27, but local governments and private businesses may still require people to wear masks.
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