Louisiana Becomes First State to Issue Statewide Mask Mandate Amid Delta Surge

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards reinstated the statewide mask mandate Monday, making it the first state to do so amid surging cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

The mandate applies to Louisianans over the age of 5, regardless of vaccination status, according to the governor's office. Masks are required to be worn indoors across the state.

"After reviewing new data from the CDC, speaking with public health advisors and hearing from hospital leadership and the business community, I am reinstating Louisiana's statewide mask mandate indoors, including in schools to protect our children who are too young to be vaccinated and our teachers and staff," Edwards said in a press release.

The new masking guidelines, "driven largely by Louisiana's insufficient vaccination rate and the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant," are effective Wednesday. The mandate is in place until at least September 1 and may be extended if conditions in the state worsen.

"This decision is not one I take lightly, but as the fourth surge of COVID-19 is upon us, we know that mask wearing when you are in public is one way to greatly lower your risk of spreading or catching COVID. Being vaccinated against COVID-19 is another," Edwards said.

Edwards renewed the statewide health emergency proclamation on July 21, giving him the power to issue a mask mandate. He said at Monday's press briefing that he did not want to have to reinstate the mandate, but conditions in the state "compelled this action."

"I cannot in good conscience sit by while our hospitals lose the capacity to deliver lifesaving care to COVID patients and non-COVID patients alike," Edwards added.

The statement from the governor's office emphasized that the order includes K-12 schools as well as universities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation for K-12 students and faculty to mask up in the classroom on Tuesday.

Louisiana is struggling to increase vaccination numbers, according to the governor. Only 1.7 million people are fully vaccinated in the state, totaling just 37 percent of the population.

The state ranks first (worst) in the nation in the number of new coronavirus cases per capita, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health. It has reported over 11,000 new cases, 27 deaths and nearly 2,000 hospitalizations since Friday.

Dr. Joseph Kanter, a Louisiana state health officer, urged the governor to put the mask mandate in place. The decision was motivated based on new findings showing vaccinated individuals with breakthrough infections can transmit the Delta variant to others, as well as data that says the Delta variant is twice as transmittable as the original COVID-19 strain.

"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," Edwards said.

"We can end this nightmare, but it is going to take all of us working together to do it."

Updated 08/02/2021, 5:10 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and clarifies that the order goes into effect August 4.

Louisiana Reinstates Mask Mandate
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards reinstated the statewide mask mandate Monday, making it the first state to do so amid surging cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant. Above, Edwards talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. Capitol on May 11, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)