Governor ends mask mandate, except at some schools

Published 4:09 pm Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he’s largely ending Louisiana’s nearly three-month-old indoor mask mandate since the state has emerged from its latest coronavirus spike and is seeing lower rates of  COVID-19 infection.

But while the Democratic governor is lifting the mask requirement for grocery stores, restaurants, bars, retailers, colleges and other sites, he’s keeping a complicated set of face-covering rules in place for Louisiana’s K-12 schools.

School districts that maintain tight quarantine regulations for students who have come into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 won’t be required to have a mask mandate. But those districts that don’t require all exposed students to be sent home will have to keep students and staff masked up, under Edwards’ new regulations taking effect Wednesday.

The Edwards administration said stricter requirements should remain in place at schools because children have greater exposure risks, with students under 12 unable to yet get vaccinated against the coronavirus and sitting in crowded classrooms for hours.

The split decision for schools highlights Edwards’ displeasure with Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley’s loosening of quarantine guidance for hundreds of thousands of K-12 students.

Brumley is no longer suggesting schools send home asymptomatic students who have come into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, as is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, Brumley suggests parents could choose whether to send their children to school if they don’t have symptoms, arguing too many students have missed days of school because of quarantines.

Edwards and public health officials disagreed with Brumley’s decision. Many of Louisiana’s school systems have refused to change their quarantine rules despite the superintendent’s new guidance, saying they’ll stick with the advice of medical experts.

In those areas with the tougher quarantine requirements, school system leaders will be able to decide if they want to keep a mask mandate or end it.

Though Edwards decided to lift most of the face-covering mandate across Louisiana, masks will be required at airports, on planes, on public transportation and in medical facilities because of federal rules. Individual businesses also can enact their own mask requirements if they choose.