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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks during news conference In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Gretna, La. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he’s reupping Louisiana’s indoor mask mandate for another month, crediting the face covering requirement with keeping students safe from COVID-19 and helping to combat the state’s fourth surge of the coronavirus illness.

The Democratic governor reinstated the mask mandate in August as Louisiana faced its worst spike in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with hospital leaders describing grim conditions caused by the influx of COVID-19 patients. People infected with the delta variant of the coronavirus filled up hospital beds and damaged access to inpatient health care services for people seeking treatment for non-coronavirus illnesses.

But shortly after the face covering requirement was reenacted, hospitalizations of people battling COVID-19 peaked at more than 3,000 and then started to decline, falling below 1,000 this week for the first time since July. The number of new infections and the percentage of COVID-19 tests returning positive also have dropped sizably over the last six weeks.

Even as the latest surge lessens, Louisiana’s health department cautioned Tuesday that it’s seen an increase in “severe pregnancy outcomes” among unvaccinated women in a state that lags most others in its coronavirus immunization rates. The agency cited the cases of 14 pregnant women infected by COVID-19 since mid-July, saying six of those women died and 10 of the children died.

“More COVID-19-related maternal and fetal deaths have been reported during the delta surge than the total number of COVID-19 severe pregnancy outcomes reported during the previous 15 months of the pandemic in Louisiana,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, the state’s chief public health official.

Edwards’s continued mask mandate includes all public indoor locations such as K-12 schools, colleges, restaurants, bars, gyms and retail stores. The requirement covers anyone age 5 and older and any kindergartners if they are under the age of 5, and it includes people who are vaccinated.

The governor can only enact such public health emergency rules for a month at a time, so he must continue renewing the mask mandate monthly if he wants to keep it in place. The latest order will expire Oct. 27.

Lauren Debroeck, who is on oxygen as she recovers from COVID-19, talks to her husband, Michael, who also contracted COVID-19 and is being kept alive with the help of an oxygenation machine, at the Willis-Knighton Medical Center in Shreveport, La., Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Edwards said keeping the mask requirement was especially critical for schools, where many students are too young to be vaccinated and where people are crammed into packed classrooms for hours each day.

The state, however, has not rolled out a strong enforcement effort of the mandate, hoping that most schools, businesses and residents will comply voluntarily.

Louisiana’s health department Tuesday reported 1,031 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 over the last 24 hours and 989 people hospitalized with the illness. More than 12,200 people across Louisiana have died of the coronavirus disease, and another 1,600 deaths are considered likely from COVID-19, according to department data.

Though the latest surge has lessened, public health officials warn Louisiana still has significant amounts of COVID-19 circulating in the community. But the state no longer has the highest per capita COVID-19 growth in the nation as it did in early August when Edwards reinstated the masking requirement. Louisiana has fallen to among the lowest per capita rates among for new cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Louisiana continues to have one of the country’s lowest vaccination rates, but immunization levels have grown since the fourth virus surge. More than 45% of the state’s 4.6 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 51% have at least started the process that can take two shots.

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