Update: State will remain in Phase 2 until at least August 7
Governor John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday (July 21) that Louisiana will remain in Phase 2 for at least 2 more weeks. He said he has no choice, because Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are spiking. So Phase 2 will continue until at least August 7.
The statewide facemask mandate issued Saturday by Gov. John Bel Edwards has been thrown into question. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry issued an opinion Wednesday stating that the governor’s mandate is not constitutional or enforceable.
"Arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is not only possible, but is highly probable and even encouraged by the order,” Landry said in his opinion. “At the same time, the order is also unconstitutionally overbroad.”
The attorney general's opinion is strictly advisory and does not affect the facemask mandate legally. He is required to offer legal opinions to state officials when requested. In this case, Landry was asked by several state legislators about the constitutionality of the facemask mandate.
Shortly after Landry issued his opinion Wednesday, Gov. Edwards provided a statement, which reads: "Louisiana continues to follow guidance from the White House and, just yesterday, I hosted Vice President Mike Pence and members of the federal White House Coronavirus Task Force in Louisiana, which is considered by the federal government to be in the ‘red zone’ for new cases," Edwards wrote.
"Vice President Pence said he agreed with the steps I have taken in Louisiana and encouraged our people to wear masks and abide by my reasonable regulations. In fact, on Monday’s White House call with governors, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the federal coronavirus response, singled out my actions, including the mask mandate, as a ‘best practice’ for states with rising cases."
In issuing his opinion, Landry said he did not question the effectiveness of facemasks, but rather questioned the mandate itself. Because his opinion does not legally cancel the governor's mandate without a court order, businesses that have been following the mandate are expected to continue to do so until advised otherwise.
Edwards is calling on Landry to withdraw the opinion, fearing it may undo progress. “That opinion would potentially lead some businesses and some employers not to follow the guidelines,” said Edwards on a radio program Wednesday. Edwards said the opinion reverses Landry’s previous support of the governor's COVID-19 efforts. “He encouraged Louisianans to follow my directives and said he was united with me in protecting the health and safety of the people of our state,” Edwards said on the radio program.
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Saturday afternoon that face masks will be required to enter Louisiana businesses, effective Monday (July 13).
Edwards said he had no choice, because Coronavirus cases have become worse in the state. More than 2,000 new cases of Coronavirus were counted Friday and Saturday. "If you want to be mad at me, then be mad at me," he said. "But please wear your mask."
Neighboring states have already started requiring face masks in businesses, including Texas and Mississippi.
In Washington Parish, only about half of shoppers were seen wearing face masks in some stores on Saturday prior to the governor's announcement. However, on Monday morning almost all people entgering businesses had facemasks, and in two instances seen by newspaper staffers in Franklinton, people entering a business without a facemask were turned away.
For businesses to be in compliance with the order, they cannot let anyone enter without a face mask, except when the shopper has a medical reason not to wear a mask. If someone is not wearing mask and is told to leave the business, he or she will be trespassing if they remain. At that time, police can be called and the non-mask wearer can be charged with trespassing. Businesses that do not comply with the governor's mandate can be fined $500.
Children under the age of 8 do not have to wear a mask. However, the Center For Disease Control recommends children as young as 2-years-old should wear a face mask. It is not recommended for those under 2.
Face masks are required inside all commercial and nonprofit businesses providing goods or services directly to the public. Face masks should also be worn in outdoor group settings, where social distancing is not feasible. Otherwise, the governor's order does not require masks to be worn outside. Although everyone should wear a mask in a church, Gov. Edwards says there will be no enforcement of that mandate inside churches.
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Washington Parish President Richard N. Thomas had previously urged all parish residents to wear facemasks.
Upon the governor issuing his facemask order, Thomas released the following public statement:
Governor Edwards has ordered a statewide mask mandate for those citizens above the age of 8 unless a health condition makes it difficult, bars will close but can provide curbside service and gatherings are limited to 50 people (weddings, showers, parties, etc). These changes went in effect today, Monday, July 13, 2020. As he stated at his press conference, these decisions will be unpopular but are needed to avoid further restrictions. This mandate is something that I definitely did not want to see issued, however, it is extremely important that all restrictions under Phase 2 and those listed above be strictly adhered to or we could very well find ourselves returning to the so-called phase 1 re-opening. That would definitely break our economy and cripple our parish. As I have stated in previous memos, I feel it is important to make the extra effort to remind our businesses just how important it is to protect your employees and our public. I urge all essential businesses and non essential that are allowed to remain open to do their part to be compliant with the executive orders set forth by Governor Edwards. I urge every single person in our parish to take control and help stop the spread of this virus.