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Communities react to mask mandate

Tuesday, July 14, 2020
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Leader photo by NATE NASWORTHY
Pictured is a sign attached to a flipped over grocery buggy in front of Super 1 Foods explaining the store’s face mask regulations.

Louisiana’s new mask mandate appears to be meeting with the approval of local officials, at least so far.

The mandate, ordered by Gov. John Bel Edwards, is the state’s latest weapon in the fight against the surging novel coronavirus. The mandate became effective at 12:01 a.m. Monday and continues until at least July 24.

“Anything we need to do to limit exposure (to the novel coronavirus), we need to do it,” Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker said. “We know that masks help.”

The order requires face coverings for everyone age 8 and over, closes bars to on-premises consumption and limits indoor social gathering to 50 people. The 50-person limitation also applies to outdoor gatherings where people cannot avoid being within 6 feet of one another.

The mask mandate says businesses, as well as state and local government offices, must require everyone who enters to wear a mask, with the following exceptions:

• Anyone whos has a medical condition that prevents the wearing of a face covering

• Anyone who is consuming a drink or food

• Anyone who is tring to communicate with a person who is hearing impaired

• Anyone who is giving a speech for broadcast or to an audience

• Anyone temporarily removing his or her face covering for identification purposes

• Anyone who is resident of a parish without a high COVID incidence that has opted out of the masking mandate. As of Monday, only three parishes met the criteria: Grant, Red River and West Feliciana.

Earlier rules requiring businesspeople to wear masks if they have direct contact with patrons are still in effect. With the new rules, both staff and customers are to mask up.

Businesses that do not comply with the order can be fined up to $500. Customers or workers who don’t comply or refuse to leave the premises can be cited for trespassing.

Though the order vests enforcement with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and the State Fire Marshal, evidently the hope is that business and citizens will police themselves.

Ashley Rodrique, public affairs director for the State Fire Marshal’s office, said Edwards wants patrons who see businesses violating the order to bring that to the business’s attention.

“It’s the businesses responsibility to be aware of the rules and enforce them,” she said.

During a press conference Saturday in which he announced the new rules, Edwards said he was confident Louisianans don’t need a threat of enforcement to get them to adhere to wearing masks.

“A public health emergency of this nature ... if the people of Louisiana are going to insist that we enforce our way through it, we’re not going to be successful,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to have people unnecessarily spreading this disease...”

Neither the Lincoln Parish Sheriff ’s Office nor the Ruston Police Department will enforce the mandate, however Lincoln Parish Sheriff Stephen Williams asked residents on Sunday to “abide by the requests of local establishments regarding the use of masks.”

Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce President Judy Copeland said her organization is encouraging its members to follow the guidelines.

“We need to set that standard here and make that happen,” she said.

Walker said he was concerned early on that the no on-premises alcohol consumption at bars component of the mandate could have an adverse impact on local restaurants that have bars.

Ruston has no bars that are not part of an eatery.

“So I believe it doesn’t affect our restaurants except they need to pull their chairs away from the bar,” Walker said Monday.

Meantime, mayors across Lincoln Parish say they, too, are encouraging compliance with the mask mandate. Last week, Grambling became the first Lincoln Parish municipality to require masks in public places.

In Choudrant, Mayor Bill Sanderson said village employees have been told to wear a mask when they enter a business. Citizens are also required to wear masks if they come to Village Hall.

Dubach Mayor Mary Claire Smith said a sign has been posted on the door of town hall requiring masks for entry. She is encouraging town businesses to comply with the mandate and will put a message on the LED sign in front of town hall.

Simsboro Mayor Sybil Foster said the mandate won’t change much as far as village protocol is concerned, as town hall is already closed to the public and will remain that way. When town hall meetings are called, attendees will continue to be asked to wear masks.

She said the village does plan to enforce the mask mandate to the extent it’s able.

Reporters Caleb Daniel and Nate Nasworthy contributed to this story.