By Baptist Message staff
BATON ROUGE, La. (LBM) – Louisiana officially has headed into the next phase of reopening the state’s economy — with the exception of New Orleans.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, during a news conference Friday, said while the mask mandate will remain in place in Phase 3, businesses and churches will be allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity, an increase from 50 percent under Phase 2 that expired earlier in the day. The new order will remain in effect until it expires Oct. 9.
Under the new guidance issued jointly from the Governor’s office with the state fire marshal and the Department of Health, indoor social gatherings like weddings and birthday parties can operate at 50 percent capacity, up to 250 people, and sporting event venues can open at 25 percent capacity.
Nursing home visits still are not allowed in Phase 3, although the LDH soon will start a pilot program for some nursing homes in parishes which experience no new cases of COVID-19 for two weeks. Parishes without high case numbers also will be included in the trial run.
“We have seen some improvement in decreased COVID-like illness, new COVID cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, as our strong mitigation measures are working,” Edwards said. “That said, I want the people of Louisiana to know that moving into Phase 3 does not mean that COVID is no longer a problem for us because in fact it is.
“That’s why it is incumbent upon all Louisianans to follow the guidance, wear their masks and avoid going out when they are showing symptoms,” he continued. “We all want to see a return to normalcy, but it is going to take all of us working together to get us there. There are still some looming factors that could come to bear on the fragile gains that we have made including students returning to schools at all levels, the outcome of the Labor Day weekend and the displacement of thousands of residents by Hurricane Laura from an area that had among the highest case counts in the state. If we see a spike in cases, we may be forced to go back to a more restrictive Phase 2.”
The state has remained in Phase 2 since June 5, having been extended four times.
During a news conference Thursday, Edwards said the data from the last two weeks showed enough fewer new novel coronavirus pandemic cases and hospitalizations that warranted a move into the next phase.
NOLA STAYS IN PHASE TWO
While the rest of the state will move into Phase 3, New Orleans will remain in Phase 2 for now. Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Thursday that ensuring students’ safe return to the classroom was a top priority before exploring a move into the next phase. Pre-K through fourth grade students return to in-person learning on Monday while higher grades will continue distance learning until at least mid-October.
“The primary reason for us staying in Phase Two, not moving with further easement of any restrictions, is to get our kids back into the classroom, have the time that will allow us to look at the data, look at the trends, and therefore determine the impact,” Cantrell said in a news conference.
Bars will remain in closed in parishes with high incidence of COVID-19. Parishes with a positivity rate of 5 percent or lower for two consecutive weeks will be allowed to re-open for on-premises consumption at 25 percent capacity, up to 50 people. No more than 50 customers will be allowed outdoors and no live music will be allowed.
Sales of alcohol will end at bars, restaurants and other establishments by 10 p.m.