BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/AP) — Louisiana’s governor announced Monday that the state will move into the second phase of reopening the state’s businesses and economy on Friday.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said in his briefing Monday that he intends to sign a new executive order on Thursday, which will set the latest lifting of restrictions to go into effect on Friday when the current order expires. The new executive order will remain in effect for 21 days, through June 26.
“We are seeing signs of progress. Louisiana is headed in the right direction,” Edwards said. But he cautioned his state’s residents to remember: “There still is a lot of COVID out there.”
Under Phase 2, restrictions on churches and businesses will be further eased as the state fights the spread of the new coronavirus in allowing maximum occupancy to increase from 25 to 50 percent. Some businesses that have remained closed through Phase 1 will also be allowed to reopen, including spas, tattoo parlors, massage parlors, bowling alleys, and event centers.
Employees interacting with the public still will be required to wear masks, and the governor encouraged businesses to consider using temperature checks to determine who can enter their premises.
Bars that do not have a Louisiana Department of Health food license can also now open at 25 percent seated occupancy. Live music and theater venues will remain closed.
The Fire Marshal’s Office will be providing specific guidance for businesses on reopening or expanding under Phase 2 at opensafely.la.gov.
Edwards said Monday that there is still risk involved as the state eases restrictions.
“There’s no way for me to stand up here and say that if everything operates just as we described that it renders it completely safe,” said Edwards, before going on to add that “everybody needs to take personal responsibility to make sure that you’re doing what we ask to do” and that people “probably shouldn’t patronize” businesses that are not observing the updated guidance.
Edwards said the state will continue to review key data, including how many people are reporting symptoms, how much testing is being done and the positivity rate, and hospitalizations over the coming three weeks to determine whether the state is ready to lift restrictions even further.
The governor cited continued declines in new deaths and new hospitalizations attributed to the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus as allowing for the easing of restrictions planned for Friday.
But he also cautioned that people who are most at risk of severe symptoms and death from COVID-19 – the elderly and people with certain underlying health conditions — should continue to stay home as much as possible. He also urged people to wear masks when encountering others outside their households and to practice physical distancing.
Edwards and Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Alex Billioux acknowledged that the state’s progress is uneven. For instance, hospitalizations continue to climb in central and northeast Louisiana. But they said they are confident that the state is ready to move to the next phase.
Still, the state’s lifting of restrictions won’t apply in one jurisdiction, the original epicenter of Louisiana’s outbreak. New Orleans officials made clear last week that they’d like to see more data before deciding how and when to further open the city.
Like the state, New Orleans now allows dining inside restaurants, hair and nail salons and church services, with 25% limits on capacity. But unlike the state, the city has yet to allow casinos to reopen.
One concern voiced by the New Orleans health director, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, was the likelihood that many New Orleans area residents were among crowds on Gulf Coast beaches during the Memorial Day weekend. The city needs to watch to see whether any of those travelers might be spreading the virus, she said.
“We are watching the data, not the date,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Monday.
Edwards has been under continued pressure from Republican officials since early May, when he extended his first, strict stay-at-home emergency order. That order, issued in mid-March when the state was a hot spot for COVID-19, was lifted May 15.
But GOP officials pressed for further loosening of restrictions.
Attorney General Jeff Landry, who early in the coronavirus crisis was supportive of Edwards’ efforts, joined Republican state lawmakers in sending the governor a letter Sunday urging him to “reopen our state and unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of Louisiana’s hardworking people.”
They asked that all of Louisiana employers fall under the same regulations.
“The piecemeal method picks winners and losers, crippling small businesses and forcing too many into bankruptcy or closure.”
At his Monday afternoon news conference, Edwards stressed, as he often does that his reopening plans adhere to White House guidelines, “which treat different businesses and different activities differently.”
Louisiana has had more than 40,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, as of midday Monday. The death toll rose by four to 2,690. The state says more than 31,700 have recovered. Hospitalizations, a key factor in whether restrictions are loosened, dropped to 661 after peaking at more than 2,100 in early April.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.
If you have a fever or cough, you might have COVID-19. Most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home. Keep track of your symptoms. If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), get medical attention right away.
The governor also took time during Monday’s briefing to address civil unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police last week,” calling the officers’ conduct “egregious.'”
When asked whether police practices and standards needed to be changed, Edwards said the officer’s actions were not in line with law enforcement training to begin with.
“I don’t know that you have to change the standards, because what that officer did was not in any of the training that he ever received. That was inappropriate, it wasn’t standard police work. It was a gross departure from what is normal,” said Edwards. “And it’s bad enough with respect to that officer. It’s made worse by the fact that you had two or three other officers standing by who didn’t intervene and correct the situation on the spot before it ever got to the point of Mr. Floyd’s death.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.