The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to repeal the mask requirement for people who are not working in high-risk occupations. The measure was enacted as a precautionary measure last month after the coronavirus, which causes severe respiratory illness, showed up in five patients with ties to New Orleans.
This is an important step forward for our city, said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. We want residents and visitors alike to know that we’re taking every possible action to protect them.
The City Council took another step in that direction Wednesday. Members voted unanimously to have the city’s health department look into repealing its mask requirement for people who are not working in high-risk occupations, such as hospital personnel. The measure was enacted on May 8 as a precautionary measure after coronavirus was shown in five patients with ties to New Orleans.
Coronavirus is the same virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed more than 800 people during an outbreak in 2002 and 2003. City officials stressed Wednesday that New Orleans’ current situation is nothing like that epidemic, but they decided to take every step possible to ensure the safety of residents and visitors.
Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who represents the ward that includes Uptown, introduced the repeal measure, saying she has received numerous complaints from constituents about being told they cannot leave their home without wearing a N95 respirator or surgical mask.
We want people to feel free where they live and work, so that they don’t feel stigmatized, said Palmer.
Many of the people who came to the microphone at Wednesday’s meeting spoke about how wearing a mask makes them uncomfortable in their own homes and neighborhoods. They also expressed concern that the requirement is making it difficult for people to go out in public without getting strange looks because of something like hay fever or a cold.
Speaker Erika Wool, a member of the city’s Public Health Advisory Group, said that the mask requirement has also been stigmatizing for health care workers who are at risk of contracting coronavirus but whose jobs do not require them to wear masks.
Wool said that she is far more likely to contract coronavirus at home than at work, so she should not have to wear a mask in public.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry said that the face masks are uncomfortable and could be embarrassing to people who are not working in high-risk jobs.
The repeal of the mask requirement is just one step toward combating coronavirus, but it is an important step. It shows the community that the city is taking steps to help people return to their normal lives as soon as possible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s health team on Monday, May 12, 2014. The coronavirus was not present at this meeting, but it is serious enough that we wanted experts to provide clear direction on what steps we should take. As Gov Jindal announced, Gov Edwards has declared an emergency and the CDC will issue a disaster declaration so that our hospitals and health care providers can receive reimbursement for expenses related to coronavirus testing and treatment.