Monday marked the first day of new statewide COVID-19 safety protocols installed by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, including a mandatory mask requirement for those entering businesses and other public areas.
Through his July 11 executive order, Bel Edwards also ordered bars in the state to shut down on-site consumption and limit their business to curbside pickup orders of food, and limited indoor social gatherings like wedding receptions, class reunions and parties to 50 total people. This order will expire July 24, but could be extended if reported infections do not trend down enough.
“While I had hoped to avoid going backwards on restrictions, it is obvious that it is necessary to slow the spread of infection in our state, as COVID-19 has spread to every corner, at a level higher than we have previously seen,” said Bel Edwards, following a two-day period in which the state recorded back-to-back high new case numbers. The state logged more than 13,000 reported new cases last week, topping the previous high of more than 11,000 that was set in early April.
For St. Charles Parish business owners, it represents another variable to adjust to – the presence of those representing one of precious few constants during the COVID pandemic. Businesses can be cited and fined up to $500 if found to be in violation of the order by allowing employees or customers to be on site without wearing masks. Customers can be asked to leave if non compliant, and if they refuse, they can be cited for trespassing and law enforcement could get involved.
But it’s not necessarily even that simple.
“We’ve been compliant … we don’t have a choice if we don’t want to be fined,” said Barry Majoria, co-owner of Majoria’s Supermarket in Boutte. “We require our employees to wear them. We do have signs posted, based on the law, that people are required to wear them, but if you have a medical condition and say you cannot, I can’t question you about that, of course. So that’s the hand we’re dealt, and the one we’ll play.”
Majoria was alluding to one of a handful of exemptions for the facemask mandate, that people who have a medical condition that makes it unsafe to wear one are not required to, and business owners can take a person’s word if they note such a condition.
He said he’s observed the majority of customers wearing masks, but not all.
Janet Long, owner of Bayou Pets in Destrehan, echoed Majoria.
“With us, people tend to come in and get their stuff, then get out. They’re not lingering,” Long said. “The people who have come in, and stopped and looked at fish, they’ve had their masks on. Mostly, the ones who haven’t, aren’t in here very long.”
Long noted the expected protocol for business owners now is to ask a customer without a mask to put one on. If a customer says no, the store owner or manager is to ask the person to leave, and if the customer then refuses, they could be cited for trespassing. The latter point, in particular, bothers Long.
“I mean, if they tell me no, I’m supposed to call the police? No, there’s no way I’d ever call the police on one of my customers,” Long said.
Kristi Brocato, owner of The Basketry in Luling, said her store is recommending masks, but has mixed emotions about how enforcement of the mandate can be carried out.
“What I ask my customers is, no matter how you feel about it, either way my business is responsible if you don’t follow the mandate,” Brocato said. “I won’t force you to wear it and I won’t refuse you service. But I do ask them to do it for me, so we don’t get in trouble here.
“Obviously, I want to keep everyone safe. And I don’t like the mask requirement, but I also know so many people that have had COVID and who are or were close to death, who have died, so if that’s what we have to do, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Brocato said she feels it’s the responsibility of business owners to support their government. At the same time, however, the one part of the mandate she couldn’t get behind was the refusal of service to customers who don’t wear a mask.
“If they’re telling us we should refuse service to someone, I don’t think that’s right,” she said. “I think everyone deserves service whether they have one or not.”
For the St. Charles Parish residents who must now comply with the order, some wholeheartedly agree with Bel Edwards’ order.
Rachel McFall of Norco doesn’t have the luxury of risking the odds with COVID due to her auto immune disorder.
“I may look young and healthy, but I get sick very easily,” McFall said. “I wish people understood that masks are a very easy thing to use whether it’s to get groceries or get gas. Doctors, dentists and surgeons use them every day and they’re fine. People need to think about others and do the right thing.”
Fellow Norco resident Shelby Kliebert said she and her husband were “100 percent” for it.
“We have a three month old at home and since we don’t know how his little body would react to COVID, we require everyone who comes in contact with him to wear a mask,” King said. “We wear masks to ensure we stay healthy for him. He can’t wear a mask to protect himself, so it’s super important that people around him wear one.”
Adds Michelle Seemann of Destrehan, “A bit of understanding can go a long way right now. It may not help to wear a mask, but it certainly can’t hurt.”
Others weighed in as well.
“I believe the governors mask mandate is long overdue. The data supports it. It’s also in line with recommendations from President Trump’s Covid-19 Task Force and the CDC,” said Brian Dickenson of Destrehan. “Had everyone been following the recommendations all along we wouldn’t be seeing the spikes we are seeing in positive cases, especially after holiday weekends. We are now seeing a subsequent rise in hospitalizations and deaths. Our chosen behavior is hurting our economy, but the real cost is the loss of our loved ones and the emotional toll that brings along with it.”
Added Diana Savarino of Destrehan, “I have decided for myself that I will do whatever is necessary to keep from getting the virus and spreading it to my loved ones and if that means wearing a mask, then that’s what I’ll do. I’d rather wear it and hope it works than not wear it at all. Wearing a mask and social distancing is uncomfortable but the alternative is being hooked up to a ventilator and possibly death. My mother died in 1996 hooked up to a ventilator but she died of heart failure and I was at her side when she passed. I can’t imagine anyone I love dying on a ventilator and knowing I cannot be with them in their last moments.”