Edwards to keep Louisiana coronavirus restrictions in place

BATON ROUGE. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to announce today that he'll continue Louisiana's statewide mask mandate and the business restrictions he enacted to combat the coronavirus outbreak, despite lawsuits seeking to upend the orders.

The rules are set to expire Friday, but the Democratic governor cautioned Louisiana residents he planned to extend them further as the state continues to have one of the nation's highest per capita virus infection rates in the last two weeks.

Edwards will discuss the duration of that extension in an afternoon briefing.

Even as he intends to keep the emergency coronavirus orders in place, at least three pending lawsuits in state and federal court are seeking to have some of the rules thrown out as overstepping the governor's authority.

The regulations limit restaurants to 50% capacity for in-person dining, restrict bars to takeout and delivery only and place occupancy limits on gyms, salons and other businesses deemed nonessential. Face coverings are required for anyone age 8 and older, with medical exceptions. Indoor gatherings above 50 people are banned.

The rolling average number of new coronavirus cases daily in Louisiana has been falling over the past two weeks, but the state still is seeing more than 1,800 new cases confirmed per day during that time.

Edwards and public health officials have suggested that the mask mandate and bar restrictions in particular have helped shrink the number of new cases and that all the restrictions must be maintained to slow the spread of the virus.

Critics say Edwards is infringing on personal freedom with the face covering requirement and crippling Louisiana's economy with his business restrictions.

Two federal lawsuits, in New Orleans and Lafayette, are specifically challenging Edwards' prohibition on bars serving onsite drinks. A third lawsuit filed in Baton Rouge state district court and set for a Wednesday hearing goes further, challenging the mask mandate, the bar restrictions and the indoor gathering limit as unconstitutional.

Louisiana's health department says 3,937 state residents have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. The state has seen more than 124,000 confirmed coronavirus cases since early March, according to the health department, with more than 74,000 presumed recovered.

The numbers of actual infections are thought to be far higher because many people can be asymptomatic and never get tested.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

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