A crowded committee room at Louisiana’s Capitol broke out into pandemonium early Monday morning after one simple request: put on a mask.

Just before the state’s top public health official, Dr. Joe Kanter, began his testimony before lawmakers on the state’s worst surge of COVID-19 to-date, Rep. Larry Bagley told the audience to follow the governor’s indoor mask mandate or move to an overflow room.

The packed audience at the House Committee on Health and Welfare erupted.

“You don’t have to wear a mask, but if not, you have to go to a separate room,” a sergeant-at-arms told unruly audience members.

“Rules for me, not for thee,” the crowd shouted back, pointing to half-dozen GOP lawmakers sitting in front of them without masks. That included Reps. Michael Echols, R-Monroe; Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City; Robert Owen, R-Slidell; and Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge

Bagley, the committee chairman, adjourned the meeting for ten minutes to restore order. Upon return, lawmakers agreed to wear their masks, and the sergeant-at-arms began removing audience members from the room.

“Somebody needs to instruct them on the proper way to wear a mask because a lot of them have their noses out,” said Rep. Robby Carter, a transplant survivor.

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The hearing took place as Louisiana grapples with its worst wave of COVID since the pandemic began nearly 18 months ago. There are a record-breaking 2,956 patients hospitalized with COVID in Louisiana. 417 of those patients are on mechanical ventilation.

“That’s the highest that’s been during the pandemic,” Kanter said repeatedly, as he reviewed case counts and hospitalizations across the state’s nine public health regions.

"There’s not really one part of the state that’s not experiencing the surge right now. It’s statewide, corner-to-corner," Kanter said. "It’s as bad now as it has ever been."

On wearing masks, Kanter said their main purpose is to prevent spreading the virus through the air. “That’s the main effect. It doesn’t do that 100% and it varies depending on what kind you’re wearing.”

At one point, an audience member stood up and shouted: “You’re going to kill us with the vaccine.”

Out of 2.1 million first doses of the vaccines administered in Louisiana, there have been just eight confirmed reactions requiring hospitalization. There have been zero vaccine-related deaths in Louisiana.

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 Louisianans have died from COVID-19.

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater