A change has been made to Louisiana's Phase 2 reopening guidelines, now allowing live music in Louisiana bars and clubs.
This marks the first time since mid-March bars and clubs can offer live music legally. The change does not automatically permit all venues to host live music, however.
Business owners must apply to the State Fire Marshal's Office for approval in conjunction with the Louisiana Department of Health. They also must meet certain safety criteria.
Lafayette Parish officials weren't enforcing the restrictions, despite complaints about at least one indoor club and restaurant having live bands on weekends in May.
In a June 5 letter to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, State Fire Marshal H. "Butch" Browning Jr. wrote that enforcing the governor's ban on live music indoors could violate the state constitution.
Bars and clubs were closed in mid-March under orders by Gov. John Bel Edwards in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Bars that serve food were allowed to reopen at limited capacity May 15 under Phase 1 of the governor's plan. All bars were allowed to open with limited capacity June 5, but there was a ban on live music indoors.
The ban on live music is still in place in New Orleans, which has been slower to ease coronavirus restrictions than other parts of the state. A city spokesperson said Tuesday evening that officials were still consulting with public health experts and hoped to clarify New Orleans’ policy on live music later this week.
Contacted June 5 for comment about Landry's written opinion, the governor's deputy chief of staff for communications, Christina Stephens, wrote that the administration was "looking at ways to allow live music to return, based on research and best practices in other areas, states and countries, which could be reflected in future guidance we issue."
That new guidance, titled Phase 2A and prepared by the Governor's Office, Louisiana Department of Health and State Fire Marshal's Office, was issued June 12, according to a document provided by Ashley Rodrigue, public affairs director, State Fire Marshal's Office. It is available at https://opensafely.la.gov.
Anyone signed up to receive updates via that link should have automatically received the Phase 2 guidance. It does not appear the change was publicized.
"The fire marshal's office has been actively engaged with businesses that wanted indoor music performances and is also communicating with them directly," Stephens wrote Tuesday in an e-mail to The Acadiana Advocate.
Indoor live entertainment venues, including those wanting to host bands and karoake, under Phase 2A, may submit a written request that addresses safety measures, including whether the HVAC system exchanges the air at least six times an hour; at least 12 feet separate the audience and performers; all performers follow social distancing measures; and management offers face masks and temperature checks to all attendees.
Ernest Leger, deputy commissioner with the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, said his office logs all complaints about businesses not complying with the governor's reopening guidelines and sends the complaints to the State Fire Marshal's Office.
At times during Phase 1 of reopening, Leger said, ATC worked with Louisiana State Police and local law enforcement agencies to make sure those with ATC permits complied with the governor's guidelines. Now, he said, ATC defers to the State Fire Marshal's Office, which is working with the LDH on public safety matters.
"With respect to the COVID-19 response and safety requirements with social distancing and health concerns, the appropriate overseer of what can be done and can’t be done is the State Fire Marshal's Office," Leger said Tuesday.
Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory, an attorney, requested the written opinion from Landry. He wrote that he believed the governor's restrictions on live indoors entertainment was meant for large arenas, not bars.
Guillory's administration ordered the Lafayette Fire Department not to enforce the restriction after complaints were made about several Lafayette bars and venues with live bands indoors and outdoors.