New Orleans bars can sell drinks to go on Saturday
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Starting this weekend, New Orleans bars will be allowed to sell drinks to go and restaurants may operate at 75% indoor capacity instead of 50% since a number of coronavirus indicators have stayed low, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
The limit for restaurants and other businesses matches the state limit set weeks ago. If all goes well, New Orleans could match all state reopening levels by Oct. 31, with two more possible groups of changes, Cantrell said Thursday at a livestreamed news conference.
Those will depend on public response “ensuring we are a healthy city not only to live in but to visit,” she said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards let some bars reopen and restaurants and other businesses move to 75% of indoor capacity on Sept. 11. New Orleans, which had shut down bars in July, did not follow suit.
French Quarter and downtown stores cannot sell package liquor outside bars’ state-set hours of 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. because when bars were allowed to reopen earlier, “crowds continued drinking package liquor” after 11 p.m., the mayor said.
Cantrell said the city had closed six businesses as of Wednesday for flouting pandemic restrictions.
She said bars in New Orleans could open outdoor seating at mid-month and indoor seating by month’s end if coronavirius numbers stay low.
That will depend on an overall picture, said Jennifer Avegno, head of the city’s health department.
For instance, she noted, the number of new cases per day in New Orleans rose above the guideline of 50 after universities opened, but additional restrictions weren’t needed because the increase wasn’t affecting hospital admissions or spreading into the city at large.
If all indexes rise, officials would look for whether there appeared to be a specific cause, such as more schools reopening or a “superspreader” event, Avegno said.
If a number of indicators rose and there didn’t seem to be a specific cause, “we would pause and get more data before we can move forward or backward,” she said.
Cantrell said the city has had fewer than 50 new COVID-19 cases a day for more than two weeks. Fewer than 3% of the 1,000-plus people tested daily since July have been infected with the new coronavirus, she said.
“For the past week we have seen no COVID-related deaths in our community, which is a big, big demonstration of progress,” she said.
There were 28 new cases Thursday, bringing the city’s total to 12,700 cases and 587 deaths, the city dashboard showed.
Statewide, there were 608 new confirmed cases and eight deaths as of Thursday, bringing the total to 166,584 confirmed cases and 5,329 deaths, according to the state health department. It said 534 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, 75 of them on ventilators.
She said students in grades 5-12 will return to class on Oct. 12.
“We have not seen any negatives associated with returning pre-K to 4th grade students back into class,” Cantrell said.
Her announcement came as a newspaper quoted Louisiana’s outgoing top public health official as saying big crowds in Louisiana’s college stadiums could cause three to five COVID-19 deaths a week. Colleges should follow the example of Major League Baseball and the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and play to empty stands, Dr. Alex Billioux told The Times-Picayune ′ The Advocate.
The governor said he doesn’t recall Billioux ever expressing that concern to him, but larger numbers of people in contact with each other do increase the risk of spreading disease. Edwards said he’s trying to strike a balance between public health concerns and opening the economy.
At 25% capacity, Louisiana State University is allowing around 25,000 fans into its stadium, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is letting in about 10,000.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s kind of ridiculous,” Billioux said in a story published on his last day as assistant health secretary. “If this were a story 100 years from now and I said, ‘Listen, you know, people were willing to have three to five people die for a football game every week, because it was that important to them … people were willing to sit next to people with a tremendously infectious disease that kills people because they weren’t willing to go a single season without going to a football game.’”