BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that he will be extending the statewide stay-at-home order set to expire April 30 to May 15 to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In making the announcement during his afternoon briefing Monday, Edwards said it was not the message he had been hoping to deliver, but that several areas in the state are still seeing rising cases and that the state is not yet meeting the criteria set for Phase 1 reopening under guidelines established by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“While Louisiana has seen positive, improving trends statewide in terms of new case growth and new hospitalizations, in several regions across the state, new cases and hospitalizations continue to increase or to plateau, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health,” the governor said.
The White House criteria calls for declining numbers of new cases and hospitalizations, among other things.
“Thanks to the commitment of the people of Louisiana, our state has made progress in flattening the curve and reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Unfortunately, we still have a little work to do before we meet the criteria to safely move to the next phase of reopening, so I will extend the state’s Stay at Home order until May 15, with a few minor changes,” Gov. Edwards said.
“While this is not the announcement I want to make, I am hopeful, and all of Louisiana should be hopeful, that we will enter into the next phase of reopening soon, in mid-May. I am anxious to get all areas of our economy reopened, but if we accelerate too quickly, we may have to slam on the brakes. That will be bad for public health and for businesses, bad for our people and bad for our state.”
The governor’s office says the decision is based on regional data that shows that while overall new cases and hospitalizations have decreased, this is not the case in several regions. In the Baton Rouge and Monroe regions, both new cases and new hospitalizations have increased. Some increases are also being seen in terms of new cases in Acadiana and a plateau for hospitalizations in Southwest Louisiana and a plateau of new cases on the Northshore.
Edwards said he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence Monday morning, who agreed with the order’s May 15 extension.
State officials are trying to avoid creating new “hot spots” as Louisiana works to ramp up testing, Edwards said.
As of noon Monday, there have been 27,068 (928 more since Friday) cases reported statewide. There have been 1,697 confirmed deaths.
“We are moving in the right direction,” he said. He encouraged Louisianans to take these next two weeks to adjust to “a new normal.”
Under the extended order, which will be issued on Friday, May 1, businesses that previously were directed to be closed will remain closed, including salons, barber shops, bars and casinos, among other things. Businesses that are deemed essential under the third phase of federal CISA guidance may still be open. Non-essential retail businesses in Louisiana continue to be able to open with fewer than 10 people total inside.
Three major changes in the new Stay at Home order include:
- Malls will remain closed to the public, but stores may open for curbside delivery.
- Restaurants will be allowed to open their outside areas for patrons to eat meals only, without tableside service.
- All employees of a business who have contact with the public must wear a mask.
- Additionally, both the CDC and the Louisiana Department of Health strongly urge everyone to wear masks when in public.
“Wearing cloth masks or protective face coverings is part of the new normal,” Gov. Edwards said. “Wearing a mask is being a good neighbor and in Louisiana, we pride ourselves on being good neighbors. Your mask protects me and other people and my mask protects you.”
Hopefully, Louisiana will meet the White House criteria and move to Phase 1 on May 15, provided symptoms, new case counts and hospitalizations decrease and the state continues to surge testing and contact tracing capacity. Phase 1 lifts the Stay at Home order and eases restrictions on some public spaces like houses of worship and restaurants and opens other businesses that have been closed such as barber shops and salons, but with restrictions on occupancy and strict requirements for personal distancing and masks to keep everyone safe. Phase One occupancy for these businesses will be limited to 25 percent.
As Louisiana prepares for its next phase of reopening, business owners and faith leaders are encouraged to plan as well, including understanding their building’s maximum occupancy limits, which may require contacting local government or the State Fire Marshal’s office. They should also plan on ensuring their employees have masks.
Gov. Edwards intends to make his next announcement on moving to Phase 1 in Louisiana on or by May 11. Members of the public can continue to get information from the Governor’s office on coronavirus.la.gov and by texting LACOVID to 67283.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s coronavirus restrictions lifted slightly Monday as nonemergency medical services resumed, and Gov. John Bel Edwards readied to announce the details of his “very gradual effort” to loosen additional constraints enacted to stem the virus outbreak.
The Democratic governor’s stay-at-home order, which took effect March 23, expires Thursday. In a heavily anticipated announcement, Edwards was expected Monday afternoon to release specifics of what restrictions he’ll continue into May and which ones he’ll end.
His current order banned gatherings of more than 10 people, limited restaurants to takeout and delivery and closed shopping malls, casinos, gyms, bars, theaters, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors and salons.
His first small step began Monday when “time-sensitive” elective medical procedures, such as colonoscopies, biopsies and dental procedures, were allowed to restart. The allowance is for procedures that need to be done to keep conditions from getting worse and putting a person’s health more at risk. Clinics that resume the procedures have to adhere to distancing guidelines and have a five-day supply of masks, gowns and other protective equipment.
The governor has tried to manage expectations about what comes next, suggesting his plans for the start of May won’t be a return to a pre-virus normal with restaurants and bars jammed with people and stores filled to capacity. He’s acted more cautiously than some other Southern governors.
Instead, he’s warned Louisiana residents to expect to wear masks when near others, to continue to remain distanced and to have limits on public gatherings. He’s said whichever businesses are allowed to reopen could face occupancy limits, distancing requirements and mask mandates.
“I want people to have their expectations in check, because phase one is a very gradual easing of current restrictions,” Edwards said Thursday, as he talked of the looming announcement. “It’s not as if we’re going to be opening just going back to where we before this pandemic struck. That’s not the case.”
Edwards has so far rejected calls from some Republican officials to allow a parish-by-parish approach to reopening. And he has been cool to the idea of a regional approach, although he has said local officials can enact stronger rules than the state’s. In New Orleans, where more than 400 deaths are attributed to COVID-19, Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s emergency order, which shuts down nonessential businesses and bans public gatherings, doesn’t expire until May 16.
Louisiana became one of the United States’ hot spots for virus outbreaks in March, but has seen encouraging signs in combating the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus. The rates of new infections and hospitalizations have slowed, and fewer patients are on ventilators. But Louisiana has a higher at-risk population, making decisions about how to relax restrictions trickier.
More than 27,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Louisiana as of Monday, according to the state health department.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
Edwards said his decision on how to loosen virus-related restrictions hinge on access to widespread testing and to “contact tracers” who can pinpoint people who encountered those who test positive, are at greater risk of infection and should be isolated. The White House’s guidance for a phased approach to reopening stresses the need for both.
While Louisiana’s testing rates is one of the nation’s highest per capita, it still hasn’t reached the 200,000 tests per month level Edwards is seeking. The state’s team of contact tracers also remains far below the level state officials believe they need to adequately lessen the risks of new spikes in virus cases.