Governor John Bel Edwards on Thursday said Louisiana would remain in Phase 3 for another four weeks as it made another key decision on coronavirus restrictions amid a dangerous hurricane that had its sights set on southwestern Louisiana.
“There isn’t much that can be done to loosen the restrictions,” Edwards said. “Phase 3 will remain the same until November 6”.
Edwards said he will soon have protocols for trade shows and festivals, which they will be able to submit plans to state officials for review on a case-by-case basis.
The numbers look encouraging but hospitalizations have increased slightly in the past few days, he said. Louisiana has seen a plateau of cases in recent weeks, even after many schools have welcomed at least some students back and bars have slowly reopened.
Edwards said 27 out of 40 parishes that have qualified for the bar reopening so far have done so.
And the governor criticized what he saw as a “partisan effort” by some Republican lawmakers to bring his ability to issue emergency orders and lift all restrictions on the coronavirus to its knees.
The move to extend Phase 3 – in which the state is expected to remain until there is a vaccine unless another increase in cases causes it to ratchet the restrictions again – comes as the state-dominated legislature. GOP is in a special session aimed in part at giving lawmakers more authority over its restrictions.
The Phase 3 extension includes a previously announced update that allows for the sale of alcohol in football stadiums. The most recent order will expire on November 6th. The current order has been set to expire on Friday.
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Edwards told WWL radio he is working with lawmakers to prevent the state’s unemployment fund from going bankrupt, shifting coronavirus recovery dollars and other issues. While he said he was willing to provide the legislature with more information about his coronavirus rule decisions – something many Republicans said they wanted – Edwards rejected the idea that he would hand over decision-making power to lawmakers.
Many conservative Republicans, particularly in the State House, are trying to lift all restrictions on the Louisiana coronavirus, or at least give themselves an up or down vote when the Democratic governor tries to issue a new order.
“There is not a single thing I have done that is contrary to the guidelines of the White House Coronavirus Task Force,” Edwards said. “They are extremely partisan and frankly they are extremely dishonest.”
The decision to extend Phase 3 is not unexpected. Edwards indicated that the state would likely be in a Phase 3 form until there is a widespread vaccine or treatments for the coronavirus. The state should also continue to have a mask mandate until then.
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Phase 3 allowed the reopening of the bars if the parishes saw their percentage of positivity, the share of tests that return positive, remains below 5% for two consecutive weeks. Several parishes, including East Baton Rouge, have since moved forward with the reopening of bars, with state-imposed restrictions offering table service only and closing by 11pm.
If the parishes see that their positive rate exceeds 10% for two consecutive weeks, they have to close the bars again. The White House told state officials a positivity percentage is a strong indicator of outbreaks and suggested keeping the metrics under strict control.
Louisiana has seen a plateau of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, an encouraging sign for health officials monitoring the outbreak. However, health experts warn that the state could see another spike this fall if people withdrew their precautions, such as wearing the mask and walking away from society.
This would be particularly problematic because the peak would coincide with the flu season, which is already expanding hospitals.
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