By T. Scott Boatright
A day after the Louisiana Department of Health reported a record 9,378 new COVID cases, Gov. John Bel Edwards — joined during a virtual press conference by a group of health care professionals — urged all Louisiana school districts to implement mask mandates.
The governor and other officials spoke about new outbreaks related to extracurricular activities and urged schools to suspend sports, club, and other non-academic activities.
Edwards did not announce a mask mandate, but said one could be reinstated if functions at state hospitals start to be affected by the surge.
Thursday’s new record of 9,378 new cases reported overnight shattered the previous record of 7,548 cases reported on Aug. 13 as Louisiana faced a surge in Delta variant COVID cases.
Lincoln Parish Schools Superintendent Ricky Durrett said that he won’t be issuing a mask mandate at this point but will instead leave that decision to students and their parents.
“We’re just going to highly recommend everybody wear masks, but we’re not going to issue a mandate right now,” Durrett said. “We highly recommend people wear one while this new strain is going around, but it will still be a parent’s choice. Those who want to and feel better with it will have their children wear masks, and some will probably not.
“I do kind of expect coming back (from Christmas break) we’ll have more that want to wear masks, and will do that because of the current surge.”
Ruston High School Principal Dan Gressett said right now plans are for RHS to keep moving forward when the Christmas break ends and students return to classes next week, but that a close eye will be kept on the ongoing situation surrounding the surge in reported cases of the virus.
“Right now we are continuing with all athletics,” Gressett said. “We will handle each sport on a case by case basis. If we see that there’s a need to shut down a sport for a week or so, we will. The safety of our students and staff remains at the forefront, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
Durrett echoed Gressett’s feelings about athletics right now.
“We’ll deal with it sport-by-sport, and if we have a spike in a sport we’ll shut that program down for a week or two just as we’ve done before,” Durrett said. “We’ll just take it as it comes and respond if and when we need to.”
Lincoln Preparatory School Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Gordan Ford said no decision has been made about how his school will respond to the governor’s request as of Thursday night.
“I’m aware of what the governor and officials said, but we have not yet had a chance to meet and talk about it,” Ford said. “We’ll continue to keep a close eye on things and will respond accordingly at the proper time.”
Cedar Creek Director of Athletics and head football coach Matt Middleton said the Cougars plan on continuing athletic activities next week.
“It’s unfortunate where we are with the pandemic,” Middleton said. “I was hoping we were turning the corner. Obviously we want our kids to continue to play. These kids deserve the right. We know that we can’t control what people do or who they are around when they aren’t at school. But to think that shutting down sports or other extracurricular things is going to stop this is a falsehood. We are around kids every single day in ‘school’ business, and they won’t stopping congregating outside of school. It hasn’t stopped and it won’t stop, but to try and shut down sports or blame it on that is a travesty.”
During his press conference Edwards said he will not yet restrict gathering sizes for events like the Saturday’s Sugar Bowl in New Orleans Saturday, but he did urge state residents to follow his plans of only hosting intimate family for today’s and tomorrow’s New Year’s celebrations.
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