Despite improvements in recent weeks Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he is extending his indoor mask mandate until Oct. 27 and said COVID-19 remains a deadly problem in all 64 parishes.

"Every community in the state of Louisiana continues to have a high rate of COVID," Edwards told reporters during a briefing. "We are moving in the right direction but our baseline numbers are still far too high."

State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter made the same point. "There is still just a ton of COVID in Louisiana," Kanter said.

The face mask mandate applies to indoor settings, aside from homes, for those five-years-old or older or children enrolled in kindergarten as well as K-12 students and college campuses.

The governor announced his extension even while noting trends are moving in the right direction.

Hospitalizations dipped below 1,000 for the first time since July, and well below the peak of 3,022 in August at the peak of the fourth surge in the pandemic. But the rate of cases in Louisiana – 243 for every 100,000 residents – is 2.5 times what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as high.

The case count is driven by those between the ages of 5-18 – 24% of the total.

The state rate of fully vaccinated adults has risen from 37% on Aug. 4, when the previous mask mandate was put in place, to 45% today.

"Quite frankly that is not enough." Edwards said.

The state Tuesday reported 1,031 new cases and 54 deaths, bringing the total of fatalities to 13,850.

"I guess the saddest part for me is for months now the vast majority of deaths were preventable and we know that," Edwards said. "Because we know vaccinations are effective in preventing serious cases of the disease and death and the vast majority of these deaths did not have to happen."

A total of 989 citizens are hospitalized.

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"You talk to hospitals right now and they are still very busy," Kanter said "It is certainly better than it was a couple of weeks ago."

The state Department of Health said 87% of those in hospitals are not fully vaccinated, 85% of cases reported last week were among those not fully vaccinated and 81% of death reported last week were among not fully vaccinated residents.

Since mid-July the state has seen 14 cases of problem pregnancies amid the Delta variant, including six maternal deaths and 10 fetal deaths. All of the mothers were unvaccinated.

"It is very depressing, to be frank," Kanter said.

Seven children have died during the most recent surge, which is nearly as many that died during the previous 15 months of the pandemic.

What it will take for the governor to lift the mask mandate and other measures is unclear.

Kanter said the data will be reviewed again in a month but one specific measure is not the key to any changes.

Edwards said if downward trends continue for another month, the state could be close to the baseline before the fourth surge began.

The governor and Kanter repeatedly stressed the need for more state residents to get the vaccine.

A total of 2.3 million first doses have been given, with only 10 confirmed severe reactions that required hospital stays and zero vaccine-related deaths in Louisiana.

The vaccines are available at more than 1,000 locations.

Those who are six months out from getting the Pfizer shots are now eligible for boosters if they are 65 or older, 18 or older with underlying medical conditions or who live or work in settings with increased risks of COVID-19.

Kanter said it is just a matter of time before boosters will be offered for those who took the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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