Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana lifted the state’s indoor mask mandate on Tuesday for at least the next four weeks.
“I stand here today optimistic, relieved that the worst of the fourth surge is behind us now,” said Mr. Edwards, a Democrat. “We have made tremendous progress, and I have no doubt that reinstating the mask mandate was key to this.”
But he cautioned that the pandemic was not over, and reminded residents who were not fully vaccinated to follow federal guidance and wear a mask. He also said that the state lagged far behind in vaccinations, ranking 45th in the country.
Only 56 percent of state residents 12 and over are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indoor masking is still required for students in public schools, which may opt out as long as they continue following quarantine guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. No students under age 12 are vaccinated, but an F.D.A. panel endorsed Pfizer vaccines for 5-11 year olds on Tuesday afternoon.
Louisiana’s mask requirement was reinstated in August in a bid to slow community spread of the more contagious Delta variant, as the state faced its fourth and worst surge of the coronavirus. Louisiana was averaging more than 4,300 new cases per day in the first week of August, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The state had the highest per capita rate of new cases in the country and its hospitals were overflowing with patients.
The mandate helped turn the trend lines around, and the picture looks much more positive in the last week of October, the governor said. The state is averaging 500 new coronavirus cases a day, a 31 percent decrease in the last two weeks, according to Times data.
The number of people hospitalized has dropped 39 percent and deaths have declined 27 percent in the last two weeks. The numbers are among the state’s lowest since the pandemic began, according to state health department data.
Mr. Edwards said that the number of hospitalized Covid patients on Tuesday was just 323, the state’s lowest number since July 2, from a peak of 3,022 10 weeks ago during the Delta surge.
Many of Louisiana’s parishes are still considered at high risk for Covid exposure, according to the C.D.C.