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Mayor LaToya Cantrell Issues 'Indoor Mask Advisory' As Delta Variant Spreads

New Orleans Mayor LoToya Cantrell speaks at a COVID-19 memorial event outside of Gallier Hall. Jan. 19, 2021
Phoebe Jones
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell speaks at a COVID-19 memorial event outside of Gallier Hall. Jan. 19, 2021

An indoor mask advisory is now in place for New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced at a press conference Wednesday. The advisory strongly recommends that all residents and visitors mask-up indoors regardless of vaccination status.

“When you are indoors with anyone who is not a member of your immediate household ... please wear a mask,” Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the city’s health director, said.

The guidance falls short of a mandate and won’t be enforced by city authorities, according to Cantrell. Instead, she said it "puts the responsibility on individuals themselves.”

"We have a great fall that we're all looking forward to that could be jeopardized and will be jeopardized if we do not do the right thing," Cantrell said, putting the onus on unvaccinated residents to get the vaccine immediately.

Cantrell said her team is watching the city's health data closely and could choose to reinstate a mask mandate if necessary. "I hope we don't even get there." she said.

New Orleans is one of several cities considering or already dialing up coronavirus restrictions. Los Angeles County led the way last weekend when it reinstated its mask mandate. Mask mandates are also being discussed in coronavirus hot spots such as Arkansas and Missouri. Several countries and cities have issued guidance similar to New Orleans, recommending indoor masking for all residents

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise locally and regionally. Orleans Parish has the highest adult vaccination rate in Louisiana, at nearly 70 percent, but it hasn’t been enough to ward off the highly transmissible delta variant.

New Orleans’ average daily COVID cases jumped from 11.3 on July 5 to 104 on July 20 and statewide hospitalizations more than doubled, Cantrell said.

Delta is now the dominant coronavirus variant in the U.S. and is spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated. Louisiana has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with roughly 40 percent of adults fully vaccinated. Ninety-seven percent of the state's serious COVID cases since February have been among the unvaccinated, Avegno said.

While breakthrough cases continue to be rare some health officials argue the return of universal masking will help hold everyone to a safer standard and make it more difficult for unvaccinated people to violate health advisories.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in May that fully vaccinated people go maskless both indoors and outdoors, many hoped it would help incentivize vaccinations.

But Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general under former President Donald Trump, told National Public Radio earlier this week that messaging from the CDC has failed.

"More people than ever — vaccinated and unvaccinated — are going maskless," he said. "It doesn't seem to have convinced anyone to get vaccinated."

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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