Local business owners uncertain of future as state determines reopen plans
BATON ROUGE - As the state prepares to jumpstart its return from COVID-19, what exactly that looks like remains unknown.
"We have to try to strike the right balance between promoting public health and minimizing the spread of COVID-19," Gov. John Bel Edwards said. "The demand on our hospitals and ultimately the number of people who die. But we also know we have to transition to open up more of our economy."
Following the stay-at-home order that expires April 30, it is likely a new order will be issued, possibly lifting some restrictions, while modifying or keeping others already in place.
Edwards has hinted that some venues, including restaurants, will have smaller occupancy limits, and staff could be required to wear masks.
"The most interesting thing about this whole experience is that there is so much unknown," business owner Brad Watts said.
Watts owns Kalurah Street Grill, Cecelia's Creole Bistro and The River Room. For his two restaurants, he's unsure what new restrictions will mean over the coming months.
"We can't effectively run a restaurant on half-capacity or half-operation," Watts says. "I think we've all found that out trying to do just curbside service and to-go food."
While Watts says he will adhere to any restrictions, he is concerned opening up too soon at limited capacity could do more harm than good.
"I think we need to make a decision. Is it safe to reopen pretty much the way that we were, or not," Watts said. "If the answer is not, then I think we need to take that into consideration. There will be some people who will be able to do a half-full dining room and still meet their overhead, and there will be a lot of us that won't. I don't know if I'm one of those people."
To rehire staff, replenish inventory, and continue paying bills, Watts says he will need startup funds. Even with help from the government, he does not know if it will be enough.
"Will people come back," Watts wonders. "Are they going to have the money to come back? Are they going to feel comfortable enough to come back?"
Details surrounding a new order and restrictions will be released before the current order expires.
Edwards has made a point to suggest among the first businesses to reopen soon would be those that do elective medical procedures.
Until then, state officials continue to reinforce the need to stay at home and use current guidelines when you do have to go out.