The Lafayette City Council on Tuesday rejected a proposed mask mandate to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The 3-2 vote fell along political party lines. The three Republicans on the City Council — Chairperson Liz Hebert, Nanette Cook and Andy Naquin — rejected the mandate. They didn't even discuss the proposal Tuesday.
Many in the Republican Party, fueled by former President Donald Trump, have denounced the use of masks to fight the virus, saying such mandates infringe on their freedoms.
Councilmen Glenn Lazard and Pat Lewis, both Democrats, are the only council members who discussed the proposal and voted for the mask mandate. Both are Black, a demographic hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cook had announced in January that she would co-sponsor the ordinance with Lazard. But last week, Cook backed out of the deal, saying she no longer supported the mask mandate after speaking with constituents and some local physicians.
"You allowed yourself to be bullied by Trump cultists and QAnon radicals," activist and resident Tara Fogleman told Cook. "This is not about politics. It truly isn't about freedoms. It's simply about love, compassion, respect and saving peoples' lives."
Lazard asked the council to have empathy for the thousands of residents who have suffered from the virus and families of more than 200 in Lafayette Parish who have died from it.
To those who don't believe masks help protect against the spread of COVID-19, Lazard asked this: If there were 19 people in a room, all diagnosed with COVID-19, and you had to go in that room and you had the choice of going in with or without a mask, would you voluntarily choose to go in without a mask?
A mask mandate is not a Black or White, conservative or liberal issue, Dr. Ernest Kinchen of Lafayette said, but "rather a life or death issue caused by the killer virus, COVID-19."
Wearing masks, washing your hands and social distancing, along with the vaccine, are the best ways to fight the virus, he said, asking the council to resist arguments that a mask mandate infringes on citizens' freedoms.
Masks and mandates work, Dr. Britni Hebert of Lafayette, a Yale graduate who worked the front lines of the pandemic in New York and two surges here, said.
"Anyone who tells you otherwise is behind on their reading and misleading you," she said.
Hebert said she and her co-workers are tired from working tirelessly to keep up with advances in fighting the virus only to see others in the community failing to do a very small part, wearing a mask, to fight the pandemic because of discomfort.
"A mask ordinance will save lives," she told the council, "And if you are strong enough to vote for it you will save lives, too."
Resident Meg Moran said there are other doctors who say masks don't work and one group in the Hague is filing a lawsuit, calling mask mandates "a crime against humanity." The purpose of government is not to make sure citizens eat their vegetables, she said.
"It is to protect your liberty so you can protect your health," Moran said, adding that forcing people to wear a mask "is an assault."
Along the same lines, Noah Delatte said he found little evidence showing masks other than N95 masks have much impact on curbing the spread of the virus. A mandate, which he described as evil, unconstitutional and anti-human rights, would put an unnecessary burden on business owners to enforce.
Eli Odinet, a Lafayette resident, called the mask mandate "ridiculous," "hogwash" and "tyrannical overreach of the governor."
He said if a person is medically compromised, overweight or a smoker, they should wear a mask.
"Why should healthy people be punished," Odinet asked.
Gayle George of Lafayette, who lost her husband Peter "David" Guarisco in January to COVID-19, reminded the council that people pushed back when government mandated the use of seatbelts and no smoking indoors, but many now embrace those laws.
"Without this ordinance," she said, "more people will die. Perhaps your constituent. Perhaps your loved one. No one should have to endure this nightmare of death by COVID."