Gov. John Bel Edwards has released details of his proclamation moving Louisiana’s response to COVID-19 to Phase 3. Some businesses will be able to increase their occupancy, and bars may reopen subject to certain restrictions, only in parishes that do not have high incidence of illness and only if local governments choose to opt in.
“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. 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,” Gov. Edwards said. “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.”
“I also want people to be realistic, as Phase 3, with perhaps some relatively minor modifications, is likely where we stay until a vaccine is widely available,” Gov. Edwards said. “That doesn’t mean that there won’t be minor changes, but we are going to see things like the statewide mask mandate and crowd size limits in place for quite some time in our state and also across the nation.”
The new order will be in place for 28 days, expiring on October 9. In it, restaurants, churches, salons, spas, gyms and other businesses will be able to open at a maximum of 75 percent of their occupancy, with social distancing in place.
For now, bars will remain closed to on-premises consumption in parishes with high incidence of COVID as evidenced by their test positivity rate, which is a continued recommendation of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, as cases among young people and in college towns continue to grow.
Gov. Edwards’ order also outlines how bars may begin to re-open for on-premises consumption in Louisiana in Phase 3, based on the percent positivity of the parish for a two-week period. Parishes with a positivity rate of 5 percent or lower for two consecutive weeks may opt-in to open bars for on premises consumption, under the restrictions in the Governor’s order.
This two-week percent positivity will be updated every two weeks by the Louisiana Department of Health, with the next update scheduled for September 16.
When re-opened, bars will be able to open at 25 percent capacity, up to 50 people, indoors for customers seated for tableside service. They may have no more than 50 customers outdoors, socially distanced, seated for tableside service. No live music will be allowed. All drinks must be ordered at the table and delivered by bar staff to the table. Sale and service of alcohol at bars, when they reopen, must end at 10 p.m., with all patrons cleared from the building by 11 p.m. When re-opened, no one under the age of 21 is permitted in any bar.
Phase 3 also prohibits the sale or service of alcohol for on premises consumption at all establishments, including restaurants and casinos, after 10 p.m.
The statewide mask mandate will stay in place under the new order. Masks have proven to be a key mitigation measure in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. The more Louisianans who wear masks, the more Louisiana businesses can stay open.
The order continues to recommend those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 stay at home unless they must leave for an essential activity, such as getting food or medical care. People with higher risk include those with compromised immune systems, those 65 and older and those with conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart or kidney disease and obesity. Consult the CDC guidance on high risk conditions for more information.
Indoor social gatherings, like weddings or receptions, will be limited to the lesser of 250 people or 50 percent capacity of the facility. Outdoors, crowd sizes are limited to 50 percent capacity, up to 250 people, if people will be in close proximity and social distancing is not possible. Casinos will stay at 50 percent capacity and 75 percent of their gaming positions under the new order. Sporting events, like college football games, will operate at a lesser capacity of 25 percent and without alcohol sales.
Nursing home visitation will be prohibited in Phase 3, but the Louisiana Department of Health is working on a pilot program to begin to allow visitation at nursing homes with no new cases for 14 days and in parishes without high numbers of COVID-19. LDH will release details in the coming days.
The State Fire Marshal’s office and the Louisiana Department of Health will share information with business owners via the Open Safely portal, which is located at opensafely.la.gov. All business owners are encouraged to read not only the executive orders, but the relevant documents from Open Safely.