Edwards keeps current Louisiana virus restrictions in place
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday he’s keeping Louisiana’s current coronavirus restrictions on businesses and activities in place for another month, even though those rules have provoked the ire of Republican lawmakers who convened a special session hoping to undo many or all of them.
At a news briefing focused mainly on the impending arrival of Hurricane Delta, the Democratic governor announced he’s renewed the terms of his pandemic emergency order with few changes and is maintaining the statewide mask mandate through Nov. 6. The restrictions had been set to expire Friday if Edwards didn’t act.
The rules — described as a Phase 3 order — were enacted in September and were loosened from previous orders.
“There just isn’t a lot further to go in terms of loosening restrictions before we are fully back to normal,” Edwards said. He added: “We need to stay the course.”
Restaurants, churches, gyms and most other businesses can operate at 75% of their capacity. Sports events such as high school and college football games have crowd limits of 25%, which allows 25,000 fans in LSU’s Tiger Stadium, for example. One change in Edwards’ latest rules will allow alcohol sales again in some stadiums.
Tight limits remain on bars, keeping them to takeout and delivery sales only, unless they operate in a parish that has recently seen low percentages of coronavirus tests returning positive — and only if local officials agree. When they are allowed to open for in-person, onsite drinking, bars are restricted to 25% of their occupancy limits and tableside service.
Forty of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have reached the virus positivity rates allowed for bars to resume onsite drinking, but not all of those parishes’ local leaders have approved the reopenings.
An 11 p.m. curfew will remain on alcohol sales at restaurants, bars and casinos.
Republican lawmakers say the rules are too strict and should be scaled back, particularly taking issue with the limits on bars and crowd restrictions at football games. They describe the rules as damaging to economic activity and local traditions. Some conservative GOP legislators want all the restrictions and the statewide mask mandate lifted, calling them an infringement on personal freedom.
Republicans are trying to give lawmakers more oversight over the virus rulemaking, and are considering whether to yank all or some of Edwards’ restrictions in a monthlong special session.
Edwards said virus cases have declined in Louisiana because of the face covering requirement, the limits on activities and residents’ willingness to adhere to them. He’s said Louisiana’s restrictions are looser than some other states that have seen smaller spikes in virus cases. And he noted the Trump administration has repeatedly praised his response, saying his decision-making is in line with the recommendations of the White House’s coronavirus task force.
The COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus has killed at least 5,416 people in Louisiana, according to the state health department. About 86% of the deaths have involved people aged 60 or older. The state’s death rate is the fifth highest per capita in the country.
Nearly 171,000 people in the state have tested positive for the virus since Louisiana’s outbreak began in March. Public health experts say actual infections of COVID-19 are likely far higher because many people never have symptoms or never get tested.
Louisiana has seen two spikes of the coronavirus, first in the New Orleans region in March and April, and statewide this summer. The percentage of positive tests and the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients have declined significantly since Louisiana’s latest high point in mid-July.