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New Orleans restores mask mandate, requires employees be vaccinated

A pedestrian wears a mask and face shield while walking on Wall Street in New York City on Friday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
A pedestrian wears a mask and face shield while walking on Wall Street in New York City on Friday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

July 31 (UPI) -- Amid a rise in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant, New Orleans has required all city employees and contractors be vaccinated and reinstated a citywide mask mandate.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the news rules Friday at a news conference.

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"Thanks to the Delta variant, the COVID pandemic is once again raging out of control," Cantrell said, citing 35,115 cases and 814 deaths reported in Orleans Parish since the pandemic began.

Over the past week alone, there has been over 1,000 new cases in New Orleans, Cantrell said.

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The average daily cases surged from 104 last week to 272 this week, she added.

"This is a very dangerous number," Cantrell said. "We have been here before we've seen the movie over again, and what was once unpreventable, today is preventable, and it's through our people getting vaccinated.

The COVID-19 positivity rate is at 10.7% and was 6.5% two days ago, she continued.

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"This touches everyone in our community, but with a very laser focus on young children in our community," Cantrell said. "Our children are dying, from 2-weeks-old, to 2-years-old, to 4-years old.

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Cantrell pointed out the alarming rate COVID-19 has surged in Louisiana and New Orleans and affect on hospital and other emergency resources. She also said she signed an emergency contract routed through the city's office of Homeland Security to increase capacity to respond to 911 calls amid the strain from COVID-19 cases.

The city is among the first to require its employees and contractors be vaccinated along with New York City, and federal agencies.

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California has also pushed for employee vaccination, requiring all state workers and healthcare workers show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once a week.

New Orleans' mask policy requiring face coverings in public was first implemented in June 2020. Under the new mandate, everyone is required to wear masks when indoors with people outside their household.

A separate policy has required masks also be worn at large outdoor gatherings.

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Along with state policies, private companies, such as Walmart and Disney, have required that some employees be vaccinated, following similar announcement from Google, Facebook, Uber and others, The New York Times reported.

The Walmart vaccine mandate applies to employees at its headquarters and managers who travel in the United States, not employees in stores, clubs and distribution and fulfillment centers.

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Walmart has also restored its mask mandate in substantial or high transmission areas based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance due to spread of the Delta variant.

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Walmart's retail and warehouse workers are not covered by collective bargaining units.

At Disney, the vaccine mandate applies to salaried and non-union hourly U.S. employees with provisions that unvaccinated workers already on site have 60 days to become fully vaccinated. New hires will have to be fully vaccinated before starting work.

Disney told The New York Times it has begun conversations with unions about mandatory vaccinations.

The theme park company has also announced it would restore its mask mandate due to the more contagious Delta variant.

Meanwhile, Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order to prevent mask mandates for school-age children, saying parents should have the freedom to choose whether or not their children wear masks.

All of Florida is considered a high transmission area, except for Glades County, which is a substantial transmission area, according to a CDC map.

In the Washington, D.C., area, health officials have replenished contract tracers to curb COVID-19 infections, which have reached their highest point since May and could lead to reinstating widespread restrictions, like the new mask order in the capital.

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The United States recorded a seven-day moving average of 77,275 cases Friday, an increase of 150% over the past 14 days, according to a New York Times analysis. There were 301 deaths, a 10% increase over two weeks.

Louisiana has the highest rate of cases in the United States at 89 per 100,000 people, followed by Florida at 74. Louisiana also has one of the lowest percentages of fully vaccinated people at 37. At 34%, Alabama and Mississippi are the lowest.

Florida has the highest hospitalization rate in the country, with 37 per 100,000 people, with 49% of residents fully vaccinated. Nevada has the highest rate of deaths at 0.44 per 100,000, with a 44% vaccination rate.

The United States has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths globally at over 34.9 million cases and over 613,000 deaths, the Johns Hopkins global map shows.

Although there are some "vaccine breakthrough cases," vaccines remain highly effective at protecting people from getting COVID-19 and becoming severely ill from it as they are "much less likely to get sick," according to the CDC.

According to the CDC, 49.5% of people in the United States are fully vaccinated and 57.4% have received at least one dose of a two-shot vaccine.

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White House chief of staff Ronald Klain tweeted Saturday COVID-19 vaccination rates have recently increased.

"First time we've had four days in a row, over 700K shots, in a long stretch," Klain said in the tweet. "About 3M people got their first shot in the past seven days -- also a significant increase."

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