Edwards keeps same COVID-19 rules, urges work from home
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With an unrelenting coronavirus spike bearing down on Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards called on the state’s employers Tuesday to keep as many workers as possible in their homes, but he didn’t tighten restrictions on businesses any further.
The Democratic governor said he’s renewed the same coronavirus rules that he’s had in place since late November, which were slated to expire Wednesday. Those rules include a statewide mask mandate, limits on crowd sizes, provisions keeping bars limited to outdoor and takeout service and restrictions on the number of customers allowed in nonessential businesses such as restaurants, gyms and salons.
Edwards said the state is starting to see a worsening outbreak because of activities over the holidays. But he said the case spikes appear to be driven more by informal gatherings in people’s homes, rather than trips to restaurants or bars.
“The mitigation measures really do work, but only to the extent that people follow them,” he said.
While he stopped short of toughening the rules, Edwards called on Louisiana’s business owners to allow workers to do their jobs remotely where feasible, rather than in offices around the state. He said that would help limit unnecessary exposure to the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus.
Edwards said he’ll keep the current coronavirus rules in place for at least another four weeks, though he’s indicated people and businesses should expect to face restrictions until wider distribution of the coronavirus vaccine is available — likely to be months away.
While off to a slow start, Louisiana’s pace of vaccinations appeared to be improving, under data released Tuesday by the state health department. The agency said Louisiana has received 320,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines through this week. Nearly 160,000 doses had been administered by Tuesday, with more than 21,600 people completing both doses of the two-dose vaccine.
The vaccine in Louisiana is available to health care employees, EMS workers, firefighters, people with kidney failure, anyone age 70 or older and people who live and work at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. About 850,000 people fall into those categories, according to Edwards administration estimates.
While people wait for the vaccine, Louisiana continues to grapple with record numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The state is averaging more than 2,800 new confirmed infections each day over the last week. More than 7,500 COVID-19 deaths in the state have been confirmed since March, with dozens more added each day in recent weeks. And 2,035 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Tuesday, according to the health department data.
“We’ve not yet seen the suggestion that we are peaking and going down,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public health adviser. “Things are as bad now as they’ve ever been. We do anticipate they’re going to get worse.”
Under Edwards’ current Phase 2 rules, restaurants, gyms, salons, casinos, malls and other nonessential businesses will have to continue limiting customer numbers to 50% of their occupancy rate. Crowds at churches will stay restricted to 75% of occupancy.
Bars will remain limited to takeout, delivery and outside seating, because no parish meets the low percentages of coronavirus tests returning positive required to allow indoor drinking at bars. Indoor gatherings for weddings and events will continue to be limited to 75 people or a maximum of 25% occupancy, whichever is less. Outdoor gatherings have looser limits.
The governor’s restrictions are being challenged in court by House Republicans.
Before Edwards announced renewal of the coronavirus rules, his Environmental Quality Secretary Chuck Carr Brown announced he tested positive for COVID-19 and had mild symptoms. Brown said in a statement that he’s receiving treatment with monoclonal antibodies to try to keep his symptoms from worsening.
“From the onset of the epidemic, we have emphasized mask-wearing and social distancing at the agency, but obviously some fatigue with the strict measures has set in,” Brown said. “We will rededicate ourselves to making sure we don’t let our guards down for even an instant.”