Masks mandated in New Orleans; Louisiana may follow Monday
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell reinstituted a citywide indoor masking mandate Friday and said all city employees and contract workers will be required to get COVID-19 vaccinations as Louisiana deals with skyrocketing numbers of new infections and hospitalizations.
In Baton Rouge, Gov. John Bel Edwards stopped short of a mask mandate for the rest of the state, but he held out the possibility that one would be ordered Monday after he and state officials pore over the latest data.
“But, to a very large extent, whether it is a mandate or a recommendation, the people of Louisiana ought to be doing this,” Edwards said at an afternoon news conference with state health officer Dr. Joseph Kanter.
Looming over the decision will be new findings from a big COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts. Scientists who studied the outbreak concluded vaccinated people who got so-called breakthrough infections carried about the same amount of the coronavirus as those who didn’t get the shots.
Officials still stress that vaccines help protect against infections and, when infections occur, against serious illness requiring hospitalization.
Cantrell’s mask mandate, a follow-up to a masking advisory issued more than a week ago, applies to those vaccinated and unvaccinated. She said the vaccination order covers 4,000 city employees and that contractors who want to work for the city also will have to be vaccinated.
State figures indicate close to 42% of Louisiana’s population had gotten a first vaccination dose as of Thursday. In New Orleans, the rate was around 57%.
Edwards and Kanter both said there was some good news on the vaccination front. The rate of people getting their first vaccine dose has hit more than 10,000 a day, up from around 2,000 a day a month ago.
But both painted an otherwise grim picture. Kanter said 45 hospitals in the state have asked for help with staffing as the number of hospitalizations in Louisiana continued to soar by over 100 a day. At 1,740 hospitalizations in the latest figures, the number was on pace to set a record early next week. Hospitalizations last topped at 2,069 in January during the state’s third surge. Infections are growing fastest among younger people, with the steepest climb among those between 18 and 29.
Edwards said he’s been asked by health officials around the state to impose a mandate. Warner Thomas, CEO of Ochsner Health system, told reporters Friday afternoon that he was one of them. “We see this accelerating, not getting better,” Warner said,
Edwards’ news conference, livestreamed from the state homeland security office in Baton Rouge, followed a New Orleans online news conference with three doctors from Ochsner, the largest health care system in Louisiana. One of them was a pregnancy care physician who gave birth to a healthy baby after being vaccinated late in her pregnancy. Each cited medical data and personal experience as they sought to persuade more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Ochsner officials called the news conference in what they said was an effort to combat pervasive social media misinformation about the vaccines — particularly “myths” that the shots can reduce fertility or affect pregnancy outcomes.
“People need to hear it loud that the COVID vaccine does not increase your risk for infertility, it does not increase your risk of miscarriage or any bad pregnancy outcomes,” said Dr. Jane Martin, who specializes in high-risk pregnancy care. She said she received vaccine shots in the 34th and 37th weeks of her recent pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy baby.
“It was an easy decision for me,” said Martin. She said she’s seeing an increasing number of pregnant women sick with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit.
The state reported more than 5,000 new cases Friday and 120 new hospitalizations.
Joining Martin at the Ochsner news conference were Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, Ochsner’s Medical Director of Infection Control and Prevention, who said her three teenagers are vaccinated; and Dr. Erin Biro, a neurosurgeon who said that she and her husband decided to enroll their three children, all under age 6, in a pediatric trial for the Pfizer vaccine.
The physicians cited a new report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, findings from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Edwards’ press office reported Friday that two governor’s office staffers have tested positive for COVID-19 and were isolating at home, in accordance with state and federal health guidelines. The announcement said the governor’s office has “a high rate of fully vaccinated staff,” including the two who tested positive. It gave no details on their condition, but said such “breakthrough” cases of vaccinated people getting sick “typically do not result in serious illness.”
Edwards’ administration released orders late Thursday requiring Louisiana’s executive branch employees and visitors to state office buildings to wear masks, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.