Louisiana keeping current virus restrictions amid case spike
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana won’t be easing its restrictions on businesses because the state is seeing a troubling, recent uptick in coronavirus cases, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday, as the state exceeded the grim mark of 3,000 deaths from the outbreak.
The Democratic governor said he’ll keep in place the current limitations on restaurants, bars, retailers and other businesses he enacted on June 5, which were set to expire Friday. He’s extending the restrictions until July 24.
Edwards was considering moving Louisiana from Phase 2 to Phase 3 of reopening under the White House guidelines. But he decided against the move amid the latest surge in cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus — and particularly virus-related hospitalizations — over the last two weeks, a trend that can be traced back to the Memorial Day holiday period.
“This remains a very contagious disease. It only takes a few careless people to change the course of our trajectory,” Edwards said. He added: “There are a lot of people out there saying they are done with this virus. Well, the virus isn’t done with us.”
The regulations that will be renewed keep churches, restaurants, coffee shops, bars with a food permit, gyms, hair and nail salons, museums and other businesses limited to 50% capacity. Bars that don’t have a food permit will remain limited to 25% occupancy.
Massage facilities, bowling alleys, casinos, public pools and tattoo shops have their own specific restrictions. Employees interacting with the public still will be required to wear masks.
The Edwards administration is bolstering efforts to ensure business compliance with the restrictions. Rather than only investigate complaints, the governor said his administration will be doing spot checks and could suspend permits for businesses that aren’t following the rules.
“The vast majority of businesses are operating responsibly,” Edwards said. “But we need to make sure that the rest do as well.”
Louisiana is nowhere near its height of COVID-19 cases in early April, when public health officials and the governor worried the New Orleans region was at risk of exceeding its available hospital beds and running out of ventilators.
Still, Edwards said he wants to make sure the state continues to avoid that scenario. The health department said 630 people were hospitalized Monday with COVID-19.
Edwards’ chief public health adviser, Dr. Alex Billioux, said nearly every region of the state is seeing a high number of new COVID-19 infections and increased hospitalizations as more businesses have reopened and restrictions on activities have loosened. State officials said increased testing capacity doesn’t explain the entire number, and only a small percentage of the cases came from enclosed group settings, like nursing homes.
More than 50,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Louisiana residents since the state’s first case was reported in mid-March, and 3,004 people have died. The state says more than 37,000 people have recovered.
Billioux said the fastest coronavirus case growth is among young adults aged 18 to 29. Edwards said some of the localized outbreaks can be pinpointed to Baton Rouge bars and graduation parties in New Orleans.
Some businesses in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Hammond and elsewhere have temporarily closed again because of coronavirus infections among staff or patrons. A cluster of bars near the campus of Louisiana State University frequented by students has reported at least 100 customers and employees have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the health department.
Edwards has sounded the alarm to the public, calling on more people to wear masks, remain vigilant in handwashing and stay distant from others who aren’t in the same household. He’s said too many people are ignoring those requests. But he said he won’t issue a statewide mandate for face coverings in public, instead trying to appeal to personal responsibility.
Senate President Page Cortez, a Republican who had the virus earlier this year, started wearing a mask in the Louisiana Capitol on Monday, after not being seen in one for the ongoing special session. He sent an email to senators and Senate employees encouraging them to do the same.
For most people, the highly contagious coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.