COVID mask order prompts discussion in Avoyelles

Enforcement is up to state agencies, not local law enforcement

There is still emotional debate on the state's mandatorymask policy.

Opinions vary on the effectiveness of the order requiring protective masks be worn in public. Some praise people for doing their part and obeying the order, saying they see very few unmasked faces when they are out and about. Others give a differing report, saying things like "the only people wearing masks were me and the store's employees."

There have also been complaints that law enforcement officials are not protecting the public because officers are not enforcing the mask rule. Of course, there are others who say things like, "I'd like to see them try."

Avoyelles Emergency Preparedness Director Joey Frank said there has been discussions with parish and municipal law enforcement agencies about the issue."

No tickets will be issued by deputies or police officers to individuals for not wearing a mask," Frank said. "If a law enforcement officer sees someone in public who is standing near other people and not wearing a mask, they will politely instruct them to put on a mask."

Avoyelles Sheriff David Dauzat said the mask mandate "is an executive order by the governor. Enforcement is up to state agencies, the State Fire Marshal and Office of Homeland Security. Police enforce laws. Unless the Legislature passes a law requiring masks be worn in public, we can't issuea ticket."

Dauzat compared the mask order to the seat belt law.

"We can't make someone wear a seat belt," the sheriff said, "but there is a law requiring people to wear seat belts, so we can enforce that law and issue a ticket."

Dauzat said deputies have a box of masks in their vehicles and will offer a person a mask if they don't have one.


Several area law enforcement agencies have posted comments to explain the ins and outs of the mask order to constituents.The main thrust of their explanations is the same as Dauzat noted -- that their officers couldn't issue a ticket for not wearing a mask in public even if they wanted to.

The governor's proclamation states citations for violating the mandate “shall be written only to businesses or organizations, other than religious organizations, that fail to enforce the requirement to wear face coverings,” one post noted. In short, religious organizations can get by without requiring masks during worship service.

"Citations cannot be written to an individual for refusing to wear a mask, only to businesses or organizations that do not enforce the mandate inside their establishments," an area sheriff posted.

Another post pointed out that "anyone wishing to report someone for not wearing a mask at an establishment should do so to an employee of that establishment. If the response is unsatisfactory, you may then contact the StateFire Marshal at 1-800-256-5452."

Just because a ticket isn't issued to a person for failing to wear a protective mask doesn't mean there can't be legal consequences for the non-compliant individual.

If a store follows the mandate and a customer refuses to put on a mask or leave the premises, law enforcement can be called. If the customer continues to either refuse to "mask up" or leave, he can be arrested and charged with "remaining on premises after being forbidden."

Worst case scenario: the upset customer takes his frustration out on the police officer. Again, a trip to jail linked to the mask order but not for failing to wear a mask. The charge would be "reviling a police officer" if only words were thrown -- considerably worse if more solid substances were exchanged.

Another nearby parish sheriff said that department's approach will be to "inform and educate the public. We believe enforcement action would only be appropriate in the most extreme circumstances and such circumstances would also involve the Louisiana State Fire Marshal, as directed by the governor’s order."


In another COVID-related update from elsewhere in the state, Dr. Henry Kaufman, whose family members were once residents of Cottonport and is presently chief medical officer for Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, recently warned that he has "no reason to believe that this wave of cases will abate anytime soon and anticipate that we will continue to care for large numbers of COVID-positive patients for the foreseeable future. As a result, I fear the recent trajectory of cases will deplete the medical resources of our community."

The hospital responded to Kaufman's post with one of its own, saying Kaufman's message "is an accurate and current depiction of what our team is facing and the strain being put on our healthcare system in Lafayette. We implore the community to adhere to recommended precautions to help us stop the spread of COVID-19."

Those comments from south of here echo what Avoyelles Hospital's chief of staff and CEO recently said. Kaufman got a bit more aggressive in his comments than the local medical officials did.

"I am confronted daily by individuals in our community who believe that the pandemic is a hoax, that it is politically motivated, that things are not as bad as the media portrays," the surgeon/oncologist said. "If anyone doubts it, I invite them to accompany me personally on a tour of our ICU and the COVID units. There you can see for yourself patients in their second, third and fourth decade of life with minimal to no comorbid conditions struggle to breathe in the ICU alongside those we would expect to most severely impacted by the disease.

"This disease is NOT affecting just those with significant medical comorbidities," he added.

Kaufman said the state must allow "science and reason to guide their actions" if the COVID curve is to be flattened and allow a return to "routine personal and commercial activities."


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