Eat-in restaurants return as Louisiana eases restrictions
JEFFERSON, La. (AP) — Masked and gloved, manicurists, pedicurists, hair stylists and restaurant staffers began serving an eager Louisiana public Friday as restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus were eased a bit.
“The greatest day ever!” Judy Nodurft declared as she had her nails done at the Luxurie Nail Spa in Jefferson Parish, outside New Orleans. She was separated from a masked and gloved manicurist by a clear plastic divider with holes wide enough to fit arms through.
At the Rivershack Taven, a rustic restaurant and bar facing the Mississippi River levee just outside New Orleans, some patrons ate outside at picnic tables, but some ventured in to sit at one of the five tables now available for dining in. “They’re all full,” staffer Paige Foreman said, pleased at the extra business and pleasantly surprised that patrons seemed to be minding social distancing protocols.
“As of today, they’re doing a lot better than I thought they were going to be doing,” she said.
The state is still urging people to stay at home as much as possible. But, with certain limitations — and excluding New Orleans, which doesn’t begin easing restrictions until Saturday — Louisiana residents could eat inside restaurants again. Indoor church services were given the green light to resume. Those wanting some exercise could work out in fitness centers. Barbers and hair and nail salons were allowed to open again, along with shopping malls.
Gov. John Bel Edwards credited Louisiana residents’ compliance with tough restrictions imposed in March with positive trends that allowed for easing of restrictions in accordance with White House guidelines.
The state was once considered a hot spot for coronavirus infections, and the number of confirmed infections continues to rise. It surpassed 33,800 in Friday’s figures as the death toll attributed to the disease caused by the virus passed 2,300. But the percentage of new cases relative to an increasing number of tests has been falling. And, the number of hospitalizations has fallen consistently since early April, dropping below 1,100 as of Friday.
The state issued its guidelines for the “Phase 1” reopenings Thursday night. Among limitations: Restaurants, gyms, malls, churches and other service providers where customers enter and linger will be limited to 25% of normal legal capacity. For restaurants, that’s defined as one person per 60 square feet of gross area or 25% of the posted capacity determined by the state fire marshal. Retail stores, many of which were already able to open under earlier restrictions, still must maintain social distancing from, and among, customers.
Not everyone was immediately taking advantage of the opportunity to open. Lakeside Shopping Center, a mall in Jefferson Parish, announced it would open with limited hours Tuesday, although some of its anchor stores with exterior entrances would open sooner.
The latest order specifies that numerous types of businesses must remain closed, among them massage establishments and spas, tattoo parlors, carnivals, amusement parks, arcades, bars that don’t have state food permits, pool halls, bowling alleys and children’s play centers.
Restrictions in New Orleans last one more day, under orders from Mayor LaToya Cantrell. On Saturday, new guidelines, similar to the state’s but somewhat more restrictive, will begin. One difference between the city and state: New Orleans is keeping casinos closed. The state will allow casinos outside the city to open Monday.
One casino, however, called it quits Friday. DiamondJacks in Bossier City announced on its website that it was permanently closing because of “the unexpected impact of the coronavirus.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Associated Press photojournalist Gerald Herbert contributed to this report from Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.