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Here’s Why Louisiana’s Mask Mandate Took So Long

Ben Depp
National Geographic Society

Today marks day two of the new state-wide requirement for everyone to wear a mask or face-covering in public. But the measure announced by Governor John Bel Edwards over the weekend is already sparking resistance. For more on masks and the state of the virus in Louisiana, reporter Rosemary Westwood spoke with Dr. Joseph Kanter of the Louisiana Department of Health, where he’s the director of Region One.

Here are the key takeaways:

  1. The governor delayed imposing a mask mandate largely due to politics. We’ve been reporting on resistance to masks and how politics has warped people's understanding of scientific information and public health guidelines, and Dr. Kanter says it was the political considerations that delayed the mandate. “The goal in this is not to issue an order. The goal is to get people to wear masks. And because it's become so politicized, there has been a concern that there might be a negative effect to issuing the order,” Dr. Kanter said.

  2. Dr. Kanter says masks are the most effective — and cheapest — tool we have to curb the virus’s spread. He called the mask mandate a question of tactics, and emphasized that the health department has been unified on the message of mask-wearing.

  3. He also believes the political tide against masks could be shifting. He pointed out that President Donald Trump has been seen wearing a mask and said masks have the support of Vice President Mike Pence, who visits Louisiana today. “When folks see cases rising, when they see Texas and Arizona and Florida blowing up, when they see Alabama, Mississippi, Texas come online, I think it becomes eventually unavoidable of what we have to do,” he said.

  4. Dr. Kanter’s top concern is that Louisiana is at an “inflection point.” “We're not yet at the place that Texas and Arizona are, but we will get there soon if we don't turn this around,” he said.
Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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