Will Louisiana require you to wear a face mask?

Order not likely unless hospitalizations spike

While respecting social-distancing guidelines, people line up to be tested for COVID-19 outside Andrew H. Wilson Charter School in New Orleans Tuesday morning, June 30. New Orleans has recorded 7,581 COVID-19 cases, second in the state to neighboring Jefferson Parish. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry)

Following a steady rise in coronavirus cases, a new mandate requiring residents to wear face masks in public takes effect Wednesday in Jefferson Parish. Although positive tests for COVID-19 have been found in all 64 parishes, a statewide face mask mandate does not appear to be immediately forthcoming.

Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng issued the emergency proclamation, which requires people to wear face coverings in public places and businesses. The order has no specific end date.

The order comes on the heels of the new “COVID Compliance Hotline” in Jefferson Parish, which was unveiled Friday and urges residents to report violations of social distancing and face mask guidelines.

Jefferson Parish had 9,489 cases, the most in the state, as of Tuesday. Similarly, cases have increased in New Orleans to 7,851, the second most in the state. Last month, New Orleans instituted a mask policy requiring citizens wear face coverings indoors of businesses and public buildings.

Louisiana had 58,095 cases as of Tuesday, a rise of nearly 8,000 cases in a week. Despite those discouraging figures, a statewide policy does not appear to be imminent, according to remarks by Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday.

“Obviously, we’re going to look at everything that we might need to do to get control of the numbers as best we can to get off the trajectory we’re on,” Edwards said.

However, it appears the governor is paying close attention to hospital capacity rather than just positive-test numbers. 

“The thing you cannot let happen is you cannot lose the capacity in the hospitals to deliver critical care,” he said. “We’re nowhere close to that today.”

Edwards pointed out that the federal government recommends mandatory mask policies for political subdivisions rather than statewide jurisdictions.

“I will tell you the guidance that we’re receiving coming from the White House Coronavirus Task Force is asking that we consider mandatory mask usage not necessarily statewide but in political subdivisions that meet certain criteria,” the governor said.

The governor also said that while Louisiana residents need to do a better job when it comes to wearing face masks in public, a statewide mandate could prove difficult to enforce.

“We do need more compliance,” he said. “I am not sure that a statewide mandate would produce the level of compliance that we need and there would be issues related to the enforcement of such a mandate.”

Enforcement in Jefferson Parish is not completely clear and may be handled through the Sheriff’s Office, code enforcement officials, or the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal. Violators would be cited with a misdemeanor punishable with up to a $500 fine or six months in jail.

Jefferson Parish’s COVID Compliance Hotline can be reached at (504) 736-6929 or online at https://jeffparish.net/departments/public-information-office/health-update/covid-compliance-see-it-say-it