A proclamation signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards Friday is moving the state into Phase 3 of the coronavirus reopening plan — effective tonight.
Within the Phase 3 guidelines, restaurants, churches, salons, spas and gyms and most other businesses may open at 75 percent capacity, with social distancing measures still in place.
Indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 percent of capacity and no more than 250 people. Casinos will remain at 50 percent occupancy with 75 percent gaming positions open.
Bars may open for on premise consumption, with occupancy, service and business hours restrictions, only in parishes with a COVID-19 positivity rate of 5 percent or less for two consecutive weeks. As of September 9, LDH Region V, which includes Calcasieu, had a positivity rate of 5.90 percent.
In a news conference, Friday, Edwards said the rates in parishes affected by Hurricane Laura may be higher than known, given that testing was suspended prior to and in the aftermath of the fierce hurricane.
“There was a week where we didn’t have visibility because of decreased testing,” explained Dr. Alex Billioux, with the Louisiana Office of Public Health. He said there isn’t as much testing as the LDH would like to see among evacuees.
The LDH updates the positivity rate by region every two weeks. The next report will be Sept. 16.
There are only five out of 64 parishes that could opt into the bar reopening plan at this time. In addition to the 5 percent or below positivity rate, a parish’s governing body must approve of the plan.
In Phase 3, bars allowed to open must provide table side ordering and delivery both inside and outside. They can operate at 20 percent capacity with a maximum of 50 people inside or outside. No live music will be permitted at this time.
On-premise alcohol consumption at any venue must conclude at 10 p.m. No one under the age of 21 will be permitted in bars. Social distancing guidelines must be observed.
Sporting events may take place at 25 percent capacity. No alcohol can be served and social distancing must be observed. That includes the LSU Tigers, which will open their season on Sept. 26 inside Tiger Stadium — which holds a capacity of 100,000 plus.
The LDH will be announcing the details of a plan to be tested out over the next 28 days that will allow for outdoor visits between care facility residents and family members. But these will only be allowed in parishes with a positivity rate of 5 percent or lower.
“The mask mandate remains,” said Edwards. The CDC guidelines for those who may be vulnerable to the virus are still recommended, noting that 40 percent of the state’s 5,032 COVID-19 deaths were in nursing homes. The governor noted he is concerned about the potential consequences of the three-day Labor Day weekend, given the steep increase in cases that popped up two weeks after the Memorial Day weekend.
The Phase 3 proclamation is set to expire on October 9. “I need people to understand that there really isn’t a lot of room for movement beyond Phase 3,” said Edwards. “You don’t go from 75 percent (occupancy) to 100 percent (occupancy) until the pandemic is over.”
Billioux said the state, at this time, meets the gating requirements for the phase change. COVID-like symptoms being presented in emergency rooms, case numbers and hospitalizations have been steadily decreasing. Billioux and Edwards cautioned that the current numbers are based on data collected before lower and higher education facilities had been open for two weeks, the Labor Day weekend and Hurricane Laura.
Billioux said he is concerned with a pronounced increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the 18-21 age group. Many of those positive in this age group began attending school two weeks ago. “We’re not quite sure what the impact of the return to school was just yet,” he said.
Edwards reported 844 new COVID-19 cases in the state as of noon Thursday and 41 deaths.
Both he and Billioux urged people to follow the same safety guidelines that allowed for the move to Phase 3.