Cases, Hospitalizations Rise as Policies Fluctuate
BATON ROUGE – As COVID-19 cases rise in Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state Department of Health announced numbers of confirmed cases and hospitalizations on Tuesday that haven’t been seen since the beginning of the pandemic last year.
The news comes amid updated state public safety guidance and delegated authorities to local government leaders and school districts regarding mask mandates.
Edwards said 6,797 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Monday, which represents the highest single-day case count since Jan. 6. And 1,390 residents were hospitalized, he said. Only three other single-day hospitalization totals were larger and all of them occurred in March 2020.
“To see this current rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is becoming increasingly scary,” Edwards said.
“I am recommending that everyone, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, wear masks while indoors if six feet of physical distance cannot be maintained. For anyone asking the question when will this end, the answer is simple: when we decide to do what it takes to end it,” he continued.
Days earlier, the White House named Louisiana a “state of concern” due to its 47 cases of novel coronavirus per capita, tops in the nation.
Edwards and State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter blamed the Delta variant of the virus and Louisiana’s lagging vaccination rate for the state’s situation.
“Getting vaccinated is the best way to stay safe and healthy during this pandemic,” Edwards said.
Edwards said at this point, he will not impose an unpopular mask mandate as he did last year through executive order. Instead, he is deferring to local leaders, many of whom are inching toward mask mandates if not already there.
New Orleans, for example, currently sits in a “Modified Phase Three” public safety designation that includes mandatory masks in early childhood, elementary and secondary education institutions; city government buildings, hospitals and federally regulated transportation.
Several higher education institutions are attempting to impose vaccine mandates on students as the fall semester rapidly approaches. Dillard, Loyola, Tulane and Xavier universities are among them.
But Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry opposes the effort. Landry singled out one Louisiana state college on Monday for what he considers a serious overreach.
“I put the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Monroe on notice that mandating the COVID-19 vaccine violates Louisiana and Federal law and may jeopardize their ‘collaborative’ relationship with our State,” he said.
“I will continue to defend the students’ right to make informed, individualized choices about whether to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” Landry continued.
A pair of legislative bills would have prevented government mandated vaccines and proof of vaccination ID cards, sometimes called vaccine “passports.” Both bills – HB498 and HB349 – passed during the 2021 regular legislative session, but Edwards vetoed them earlier this month.
The bills were then recalled during a historic veto override session that convened July 20. However, neither received a vote as the GOP-led session ended without overturning a single veto.
Local leaders like East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell are strong proponents of mask requirements and other strict safety measures. They and like-minded local officials regularly cite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the basis for their pandemic policies.
“The first and best source of authoritative information on COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” reads the top of East Baton Rouge Parish’s coronavirus information page.
But critics and vaccine-wary citizens are increasingly frustrated with the CDC, which may contribute to Louisiana’s low vaccination rate – ranked last among all states, according to a recent study.
The same day Edwards announced the dramatic increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the CDC reversed its own policy regarding vaccines and masks, which effectively green-lit new mandates for inclined local public officials.
Previously, vaccinated Americans were not expected to wear masks. But as of Tuesday, the federal health agency said students and teachers should wear masks regardless of vaccination status, as should all individuals when in public places.
“The CDC’s updated guidance deeply undermines vaccine confidence,” House Energy and Commerce Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers said in response.
“Mask mandates for more command and control will not build trust – only resentment,” she said.
By William Patrick of the Center Square