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Louisiana governor "seriously considering" statewide mask mandate amid COVID surge

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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards on Friday said he is "seriously considering" the reinstatement of a statewide face mask mandate as his state leads the country for new COVID-19 case growth per capita and is among the least vaccinated states in the nation. 

"At this point, it's not whether we vaccinate or mask. We have to do both," Edwards said in a news conference. "When the facts change and you learn new things, you have to change your approach. You can't keep doing the same thing and just hope for a better outcome."

In May, Edwards lifted his state's face mask mandate, saying most fully vaccinated residents no longer have to wear them indoors as access to vaccinations expanded. But last week, the governor, along with the Louisiana Department of Health, amended mask guidelines and asked both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents to wear face masks indoors amid the case surge. 

On Friday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported more than 5,300 new COVID-19 cases and 31 deaths. There are currently 1,740 people hospitalized from COVID complications, which is seven times higher than a month prior, according to Dr. Jospeh Kanter of the state Department of Health. He said 90% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated patients. 

"Just like cases, absolutely no indication yet that it is slowing," Kanter said.

The highly-contagious Delta variant of the virus currently attributes to at least 83.7% of all COVID-19 cases within the state, Edwards said. "Anyone who is COVID positive in Louisiana should assume that it is from the Delta variant," he added. 

Edwards mentioned that 45 hospitals in the state have requested additional assistance with staffing capacity as cases surge and that the Department of Health is working on a contract for more hospital beds. 

On Monday, one of Louisiana's largest hospitals suspended scheduling for non-urgent surgical procedures that require hospital beds, which Kanter said "really has consequences." He described healthcare worker staffing shortages as a "national issue" that has been difficult on workers "after a very traumatic year."

Both Kanter and Edwards urged Louisiana residents to get vaccinated and to adhere to masking recommendations. Currently 36% of Louisiana is fully vaccinated against the virus, which is one of the country's lowest rates. 

"We've been in this position before, and at this point I think we know what we have to do to mitigate it," Kanter said. "I'll tell you the vaccines remain the single best way to protect one against the complications of COVID."

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