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Louisiana moving into next phase of loosening business restrictions imposed to control COVID-19

by Will Phillips

(The Center Square) – Louisiana on Friday will move into the next phase of loosening restrictions meant to control the spread of COVID-19, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday.

“Louisiana is moving in the right direction,” he said. “We still have work to do.”

A new executive order will be issued Thursday, he said. Businesses and organizations currently open at 25 percent capacity can move to 50 percent. Bars that don’t serve food can reopen at 25 percent capacity.

Massage businesses, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys and other types of currently closed businesses can reopen at 50 percent capacity. Guidance about specific types of businesses can be found at OpenSafely.la.gov.

Over the weekend, Republican leaders sent Edwards a letter calling for him to treat all businesses the same, saying his executive orders were unfairly picking winners and losers. Edwards said the distinctions are based on federal guidelines meant to protect public health while also allowing the economy to function.

For example, bars in South Korea and the United Kingdom were significant factors in outbreaks that caused those nations to pull back on reopening their economy and reimpose restrictions, said Dr. Alex Billioux with the state Office of Public Health. 

Dawn Starns, who directs the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the state guidance has been confusing for restaurants, though she understands the Office of the State Fire Marshall is working though those issues and plans to issue clearer guidelines later in the week.

“It’s definitely better than nothing, but certainly not where we hope to be,” Starns said about the loosening of restrictions. “How much longer can folks hang on?”

Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said he hoped lawmakers continue to press for changes to the state’s tax code, legal system and regulatory framework that LABI says will boost economic recovery. LABI and their allies in the legislature have been accused of trying to ram through their agenda in a pandemic-shortened session with less public participation than usual.

“We’re glad to see that the number of COVID-19 cases is decreasing and that the state will be moving to ‘Phase 2’ reopening Friday,” Waguespack said in a prepared statement. “While we applaud this decision, it is also important to note that simply reopening businesses and loosening restrictions won’t rebuild Louisiana’s economy overnight.”

Officials stressed that there still is a great deal of COVID-19 in the state. People who have the virus but don’t yet have symptoms can spread the disease.

People who are sick or are particularly vulnerable because of their underlying health issues still are urged to stay home if possible. Residents are encouraged to wear masks in public and to maintain physical distance from people who are not part of their household when possible.

Edwards also urged residents to avoid settings with large crowds and where others are not taking precautions like wearing masks.

“There’s still risk involved,” Edwards said. “Everybody needs to take personal responsibility.”

As of noon Monday, at least 2,690 Louisiana residents had died from COVID-19, state health officials reported. Case numbers and hospitalizations continue to decline on a statewide basis. Fewer than 700 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals, and 86 of them are on ventilators.

More than 40,000 cases have been reported in Louisiana, and public health officials believe almost 32,000 have recovered.

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