by Anitra D. Brown

While New Orleans will remain in Phase 2 a little longer, Gov. John Bel Edwards has moved the rest of Louisiana to Phase 3.

Calling it one of the hardest decisions he has had to make, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a new excutive order detailing into Phase 3 of the state’s reopening on Thursday, Sept. 10. The new order went into effect at 12 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 11

Gov. Edwards’ Phase 3 executive order will continue through at least Oct. 9. Highlights include:

• Restaurants, churches, salons, spas, gyms and most other busines move to 75 percent occupancy.

• Bars remain closed unless they are located in a parish that has a positivity rate of five percent or less for two consecutive weeks. The parish has to agree to opening bars in its jurisdiction; and if it does, bars located in that parish can operate at 25 percent capacity up to 50 people indoors and no more than 50 people outdoors. No live music. Drinks must be ordered and delivered to tables. Alcohol sales end at 11 p.m. Bars in parishes that do not meet this criteria or that do not opt-in can take advantage of other revenue-generating options, which include obtaining license to operate as a restaurant if possible. If the positivity rate in a parish goes back to 10 percent or higher, bars in the parish wIll close again.

• Social gatherings and other events can be held at facilities at 50 percent capacity up to 250 people indoors or outdoors.

• Casinos will remain at 50 percent capacity.

• Sporting events can take place at 25 percent capacity. No alcohol sales allowed.

• The state-wide mask mandate remains in place.

Edwards cautions that mitigation measures such as social distancing, staying at home when sick, hand-washing and mask- wearing remain vital to combating the spread of COVID-19.

“What I want to do is encourage people to really take the mitigation steps seriously if you want to reopen the economy,” says Edwards, adding that while there may be opportunities for “modifications and adjustments” the state does not have much more room for reopening beyond Phase 3.

“There really isn’t a lot of room for moving forward until we get past the pandemic,” Edwards said. “We don’t go from 75 percent to 100 percent until the pandemic is over.” 

While the state has moved to the next phase of reopening, Mayor LaToya Cantrell says that decision is a couple of weeks away for New Orleans, adding that she and other city officials want to gauge how the return to in-person school will impact the spread of COVID-19 before easing more restrictions. Some public school students in Orleans Parish returned to the classroom for in-person learning on Sept. 16.

“The city of New Orleans is in Phase 2, and we will remain in place,” Cantrell said during a press briefing held with NOLA Public School to provide an update on the return to in-person school. “We will continue to let the data drive us. And where the data has driven us today is to ensure that kids are returning to school starting next week.”

In making his decision, Edwards expressed some concern about how an uptick in activity across the state, particularly in August and early September, will impact COVID-19 cases in weeks to come. Citing college campuses and K-12 schools that have recently reopened, along with Hurricane Laura evacuees dispersed across the state and increased activity over the Labor Day weekend, Gov. Edwards is concerned about just how “all of that activity could influence where we are . . . weeks from now.”

The Governor has repeatedly reminded residents  that Louisiana saw an uptick in cases the weeks following the Memorial Day holiday and has expressed concern about seeing a repeat in the wake of Labor Day.

“We are going to be somewhat anxious about the next couple to three weeks,” Edwards said.

After moving into Phase II, new restrictions, which included a state-wide mask mandate, size limits on gatherings, and the closure of bars, were added to help limit the spread of the virus.

Edwards said that although the state will move into Phase 3, certain precautions will remain in place and suggested that another surge in cases could result in going back to tighter restrictions.

Social distancing, routine hand-washing, and mask-wearing will likely remain the norm in Phase 3. Also, individuals over the age of 65, those with underlying conditions that predispose them to worse outcomes, and anyone who is sick will still be encouraged to stay home as much as possible as Louisiana moves into Phase III, Gov. Edwards said.

“If we want to be successful . . . and not move backward, we do need everyone to understand that Phase 3 is not a lifting of all restrictions. It is not some pronouncement that we don’t have COVID-19 in Louisiana, because we do. We do need people to do their part.”

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