Not long after reopening, bars in West Baton Rouge Parish will have to shut down again after the parish reported a second straight week of high positivity rates for coronavirus infections.
The mandate comes as the Louisiana Department of Health released figures Wednesday showing nearly every parish in the Baton Rouge area experienced rises in positivity rates, an important metric that considers how many coronavirus tests return positive results.
West Baton Rouge is among the few parishes in the state that have allowed to reopen bars after curbing infections only to then be closed again.
“They finally just opened just four or five weeks ago and now they’re going to have to close,” said West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot Jr. “They want to stay open, but we have to follow the rules.”
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About a half-dozen barrooms will be impacted by the state order to shut down immediately, Berthelot said, though drive-thru daiquiri shops and restaurants with bars can remain open.
West Baton Rouge Parish last Friday reported 41 cases, the highest number reported throughout the year, according to Louisiana Department of Health data.
To illustrate the rapid spread in the parish of roughly 26,000 people, Berthelot says at least 20 parish government workers had to self-isolate recently after being sickened by the virus. Many of them reported mild symptoms and all are expected to survive, he said.
“It’s been crazy,” the parish president said.
Along with West Baton Rouge, bars in Ascension Parish were ordered last week to close after reporting two weeks of positivity rates above 10%. That's the threshold Gov. John Bel Edwards has set for when bars have to temporarily shutter.
Parishes ordered to close bars will need to report a rate of 5% positivity for two weeks to reopen under state guidelines.
Assumption and Iberville parishes also saw positivity rates exceed the threshold needed to keep bars open for a single week, according to state figures. If those parishes report similar results next week, bars will have to close again.
East Baton Rouge Parish sat at a roughly 7% positivity rate, a two percentage point increase from the previous week that underscored concerns local officials have raised about rising infections.
Livingston hasn’t yet met the benchmarks to reopen bars, and though East Feliciana could give bars the green light to resume service, officials there say haven’t done so because the parish has few alcohol establishments.
Large parts of the country have seen steep rises in COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus, leading to record-breaking rates of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
Louisiana has seen a recent rise in case counts, which has prompted state and local leaders to raise alarms while stressing the importance of social distancing and mask-wearing to curb infections.
Only five parishes in Louisiana reported drops in positivity rates this week. But two of those communities, Red River and Caldwell parishes, had been grappling with high infection rates already.
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Across the 12-parish capital region, the number of coronavirus cases has been rising sharply in the past few weeks and appears to be following a similar trajectory seen during a surge of cases this summer.
The region recorded some 2,228 cases in the past seven days as of Wednesday, the highest weekly case counts since early August when infections began to taper off following a summer spike, according to an analysis of health department data.
With the colder months likely to drive more people indoors as well as the holiday seasons travel, government and public health leaders at all levels of government stress the importance of mask-wearing and social distancing.
Gov. Edwards said recently that if the state continues to veer in the wrong direction, more restrictions may be necessary if health care systems begin to come under strain.
“We do not have to go backwards in terms of reimposing restrictions we’ve already moved through ... but the people of Louisiana will determine whether in fact we have to do that,” Edwards said last week.