Starting Friday, anyone who leaves their house is required to wear masks or face coverings in Baton Rouge and parts of East Baton Rouge Parish, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said Wednesday.
The executive order will be effective from noon Friday through Aug. 3, and will be re-evaluated before that end date, city-parish officials said Wednesday.
The executive order will place Broome among the handful of regional leaders, as well as other mayors in other states, who are requiring masks be worn in public as the newly diagnosed coronavirus cases in their cities and regions spike to alarming levels.
Broome's order primarily requires people wear masks and face coverings inside businesses and places where there are large crowds as the city-parish heads into Fourth of July weekend.
She originally said the order would go into effect Thursday, but pushed it back a day after business leaders asked for additional time to comply.
The mayor says she doesn't intend to lift the order until there's a positive trend in the parish's coronavirus data.
"It's times like this when leadership is not often embraced with popularity; when you have to make tough decisions," Broome told reporters during her announcement on the mask mandate, "(but) these are small sacrifices that will allow us to progress forward without the threat of reverting back to a stay-at-home order or Phase 1 reopening."
It appears the order won't be enforced across the entire parish, with Zachary, Central and Baker opting out.
Three hours after Broome's announcement, Zachary Mayor David Amrhein posted a statement to the city's Facebook page saying the mask requirement will not be enforced within Zachary city limits.
"The decision to wear a mask at local businesses in the city of Zachary shall be left up to the business owner," Amrhein wrote. "The City of Zachary will continue to require masks upon entering city owned properties."
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Central Mayor David Barrow posted a video on his city's Facebook page Wednesday afternoon stating masks would not be mandatory within his city limits also.
"It is your personal choice and the choice of individual businesses," Barrow said. "Please continue social distancing, washing your hands, and other preventive measures."
Baker Mayor Darnell Waites is urging residents and business employees to wear masks and face coverings and gloves when in public, even though Broome's order excludes Baker.
Section 15:5 of the city-parish's Code of Ordinances grants the mayor-president the power to issue executive orders in the interest of protecting the public's safety and welfare during declared civil emergencies.
Any violators of those orders face misdemeanor fines not to exceed $200 and/or no more than 60 days in jail, according to section 15:6 of the city-parish's Code of Ordinances state.
Broome said she wouldn't be dispatching local law enforcement officers to seek out violators, rather she wants businesses to implement "no masks, no service" polices.
Her decision was met with praise from Gov. John Bel Edwards as well as most of the Democrats on the Metro Council, while many of the Republican council members scoffed at it, mirroring the political divide that has erupted at the national level over wearing masks during the pandemic.
Council Pro Tem Scott Wilson and Councilwoman Denise Amoroso echoed the sentiments of the mayors in Central and Zachary.
"I think businesses should be making the policy and if a person doesn't like that a business is not requiring masks, then an individual has the choice not to go there," Wilson said.
Amorso added, "People need to take personal responsibility for themselves. If you're uncomfortable about going out, then don't go."
Broome also didn't rule out shutting down bars in the weeks ahead if the parish's coronavirus cases continue on their troubling trend.
"It will be considered if we don't see people adhering to mandatory mask covering," she said.
The state on Wednesday reported 2,083 additional cases statewide.
East Baton Rouge was the second-highest parish for additional coronavirus cases reported on Wednesday, with 227 more cases.
Broome said that over the past 11 days, the city-parish saw a 33% increase in the number of individuals admitted to hospitals for COVID-19. And over the same time period, the percentage of residents testing positive for the respiratory virus has nearly doubled for 6% to 11%.
Eight more coronavirus deaths over the past week in the parish were reported Wednesday.
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The governor, during a separate press conference Broome also attended Wednesday, said the surges being seen at the state and local levels are not because of Phase 2 guidelines that relaxed many of the mitigation measures, but because of "people's behavior."
Broome shared similar sentiments in her press conference, claiming she had seen a troubling number of people out in public and patronizing businesses without masks or face coverings.
"We all know masks don’t stop the spread of the virus, but masks and face coverings do reduce the risk of spreading it to those around us," she said. "This face covering policy will ensure businesses can remain open. This policy is rooted in common sense measures of the medical community."
Metro Council members LaMont Cole and Donna Collins-Lewis both characterized the mayor's decision as a step in the right direction. Collins-Lewis said if residents don't want to face being ordered to stay-at-home again, they need to adhere to the new mandate.
And Cole thinks it's "necessary for the safety of all citizens" but also acknowledged that enforcing it could become a challenge.
Councilman Matt Watson, who has already announced a mayoral campaign this fall, expressed his own concerns over enforcement and has reached out to the Parish Attorney's Office for clarity.
"I certainly want the community to be safe and healthy, but when I get (business owners) calling me, wondering how they're going to regulate this for one business where you have people consuming food compared to another that doesn't," Watson said. "How does one enforce this with equality under the law from one business to another?"
Watson also pointed out that local law enforcement has been trying to make fewer arrests since the pandemic began to lessen the prison population and reduce the chances of infection there.
"It seems contrary to have people get a misdemeanor for a new crime that has been created when previously we were trying to not serve as many misdemeanor summons," he said.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who also intends to run for mayor-president this fall, said local businesses are already struggling to survive the recession the pandemic lockdown created so she's concerned how Broome's order will affect them.
"It's not our local businesses' job to police this," Wicker said. "Overall, I think we've done a decent job of telling people how to keep themselves safe. I'm really not sure if this is the direction we want to be heading at this juncture."