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Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome removes her mask to speak during a press conference on the current state of the spread of coronavirus in Louisiana, Wednesday, July 1, 2020, at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's office said Friday that an increase in East Baton Rouge Parish's coronavirus cases so alarmed the White House this week that it reached out with the hope of seeing her make masks mandatory before the holiday weekend arrived.

A White House report specifically called out Baton Rouge and recommended a mask order because more people were being diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. The report also suggested that people who took part in recent protests or attended social gatherings should be tested.

Broome signed an executive order mandating that public-facing businesses require customers to wear masks, beginning at noon Friday. An earlier state order requires many workers to wear masks.

"I am happy to see so many are already wearing face coverings at a greater rate," Broome said in a statement Friday. "I acted quickly with the executive order ahead of the holiday weekend because of the troubling rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations."

Broome continued: "The data caused concern at all levels of government as shown in a White House report released just ahead of the holiday weekend strongly recommending a mask order. The executive order is a collaboration with the many businesses who called for the mandate and openly support it to protect their employees and keep the economy open."

Broome signed her order Wednesday night ordering mask use at businesses in Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, but not those in Baker, Central and Zachary. The order was to have taken effect Thursday, but businesses leaders asked her to push back the effective date to Friday so they could fully understand what is required of them. 

A White House report dated Monday, outlining the situation on the ground in Louisiana, noted Jefferson, Lafayette and East Baton Rouge parishes had had the highest number of new coronavirus cases in the previous three weeks. Among them, the parishes accounted for more than a quarter of the new cases in the state.

Beyond general recommendations for increased testing and general mask use, it said local leaders should encourage anyone who took part in protests and other social gatherings to be tested, and that local leaders should "consider mandating mask use and closing bars if cases continue to rise in Baton Rouge."

Under Phase 2 of the state's reopening from a springtime stay-at-home order, bars are allowed to open at 25 percent capacity. The Louisiana Department of Health reported Thursday that it had traced 230 positive diagnoses to bars.

In her statement Friday, the mayor included a mask endorsement from the Louisiana Retailers Association, a trade group supporting businesses. It said that mask use will help protect shop employees.

“We ask that the public abide by the “No Mask, No Service Policy” and not put retail workers in positions as enforcers of the facial covering mandate. Businesses in Baton Rouge need to remain open to serve the public, and healthy, safe employees are key components to keeping the doors open for everyone’s benefit," the association said.

Supporting local businesses, it said, "starts with complying with face covering mandates without placing retail workers in compromising situations. Retail workers deserve respect and courtesy, so please wear a mask to ensure retail stores can remain open to continue serving the public.”


Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.