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Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory speaks to media Wednesday, July 8, 2020, at a public Covid-19 testing site at Crescent Safety Services in Iberia Parish.

Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory frequently claims that his coronavirus policies are based on input from a task force of medical experts, and he did so again on Tuesday when explaining his decision not to impose a mask requirement across the parish.

“Based on the information I’m getting on the medical task force, looking at the situation, I would not be justified in requiring a parish-wide mask order,” he said in response to City Councilman Glenn Lazard's request that Guillory consider an executive order requiring masks in public.

The unspecified information Guillory referred to did not include any recommendation concerning a parish-wide mask order. He never asked for his public health advisors’ opinion, and they never offered one.

The task force leader, Tina Stefanski, said Wednesday that such an order would “absolutely” be helpful in stemming the Lafayette virus outbreak, which is one of the worst in the state.

“I understand that enforcing that can be difficult. But I certainly think that we need to do everything we can in order to urge people to work with us,” said Stefanski, who is the regional state health administrator for the seven-parish Acadiana region.

Mask orders like the one Guillory rejected have been imposed this month in other large jurisdictions across the state amid spiraling daily case counts and hospitalizations. Jefferson Parish, East Baton Rouge Parish and the cities of Shreveport and Kenner are all requiring people to wear masks inside businesses.

Stefanski, responding to questions at a media event, said she and other health officials only weigh in on local policy matters when asked, and that no local officials have asked her about mask requirements for the general public.

Guillory, who spoke after Stefanski at a Lafayette General Health testing site in Broussard, acknowledged that he did not seek public health expertise when forming his position on a mask requirement, as he did recently on a series of less drastic measures.

“I didn’t ask them their favorite color, either,” Guillory said, emphasizing that he routinely asks if task force members have additional recommendations when concluding meetings.

When a reporter tried to ask about Stefanski’s earlier statements, Guillory interrupted the question and accused the media of sowing discord for the purpose of sensationalism.

“You want to pit the Region 4 LDH director against the local mayor-president,” Guillory said, referring to Stefanski in her position with the state health department. “You have no good intent in your heart in that question.”

Guillory on June 26 announced a series of new restrictions, including a 200-person limit on public gatherings, a curfew for unaccompanied minors and a ban on loitering in downtown Lafayette. The measures were announced in a weekend frenzy of executive orders and modifications after the state fire marshal, Butch Browning, said he would no longer tolerate indoor live music, which Guillory was allowing despite a statewide ban.

The capacity limit on public gatherings was a recommendation of the medical task force, Guillory said on Wednesday, adding that he would reduce the limit if the task force advised him to do so.

During a Tuesday City Council meeting, Lazard asked Guillory to consider an executive order requiring residents to wear masks when outdoors since COVID-19 is increasing in Lafayette Parish, especially in recent weeks among younger people ages 18-29.

"I think it's a good idea," Lazard said. "I endorse it and I would strongly recommend you consider passing an executive order. I think it's something that's long past due."

City Councilwoman Nanette Cook agreed with Lazard. 

Guillory rejected the idea saying he appreciates "the rally cry," but "with freedom comes risk."

Requiring everyone in the parish to wear a mask is not justified, he said.

Guillory said businesses should be vigilant in having employees wear masks. City fire and police personnel have increased compliance checks at businesses, he said.

Employees who come into contact with the public are required to wear face masks or other face coverings. Customers are not required to cover their faces.

"This is a war against an invisible enemy," Guillory said. "Complacency is our enemy."

Asked why he did not seek the task force’s advice on a local mask order, Guillory said he was concerned about infringing on constitutional rights.

“I’m not a king. I’m definitely not a wizard where I can just press a button and say ‘masks, everybody is cured,’” Guillory said.

Meanwhile, daily state data released on Wednesday continued to show a bleak picture of the coronavirus epidemic in Lafayette and surrounding parishes. With 321 new cases reported on the day, the total case count in the region of about 600,000 people had doubled in a little more than two weeks — from 3,865 on June 22 to 7,759 on Wednesday. The Region 4 positive test rate remained above 10% for the seventh consecutive day. 

Also addressing the media on Wednesday was St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars, who, like Guillory, said citizens — not government — are ultimately responsible for doing what is necessary to slow the virus spread.

“Government cannot be your mama and daddy," Cedars said. 

Yet Cedars sounded like a frustrated parent when asked if he thought St. Martin Parish residents are maintaining social distancing and wearing masks in public.

"Hell no," he said, adding that public health experts are unanimous on the effectiveness of these measures. "Who the hell is John Q. Citizen to say they are wrong?"


Email Ben Myers at bmyers@theadvocate.com. Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.