Judge to hear legal challenge of Louisiana virus regulations

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In this Friday, June 12, 2020 photo, stacks of signs for welcoming back patrons sit on the bar at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The city is allowing bars to open – with limited capacity and without live music – on Saturday. Bars were among the businesses shut down in mid-March as coronavirus infections increased in New Orleans and Louisiana became a hot spot for the disease. (AP Photo/Kevin McGill)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration Wednesday was readying to defend Louisiana’s statewide mask mandate and bar restrictions enacted to combat the coronavirus outbreak, as a state district judge considers a lawsuit challenging the regulations as unconstitutional.

Four Jefferson Parish residents, including a musician, a catering business owner and two bar owners, are asking Judge Janice Clark to declare the rules null and void and prohibit the Democratic governor from enforcing them.

Their lawsuit argues Edwards’ original order requiring the masks, banning indoor gatherings above 50 people and limiting bars to takeout and delivery “is unconstitutionally vague, riddled with many exceptions” and shouldn’t be allowed to stand.

It cites a legal opinion from Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July, that said Edwards’ statewide mask mandate and bar restrictions to combat the outbreak appear to violate Louisiana’s constitution.

Edwards announced Tuesday that he was extending the face covering requirement, bar rules and other coronavirus restrictions through Aug. 28, as the state continues to have one of the nation’s highest per capita virus infection rates in the last two weeks. Edwards said Louisiana has “made early fragile gains” in slowing the virus spread but couldn’t risk lifting the restrictions yet.

He credited the mask mandate and bar restrictions in particular with helping to shrink the number of new cases and new hospitalizations from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. The White House’s coronavirus task force recommended that Louisiana close bars and require face coverings to reduce public health risks and to lessen the spread of the virus.

Critics say Edwards is infringing on personal freedom and crippling Louisiana’s economy with his restrictions. At least three pending lawsuits in state and federal court are seeking to have some of the rules thrown out as overstepping the governor’s authority.

Louisiana’s health department says 3,937 state residents have died from COVID-19 disease. The rolling average number of new coronavirus cases daily in Louisiana has been falling over the past two weeks, but the state still is seeing more than 1,800 new cases confirmed per day.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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