Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday the state will remain in Phase 2 for the reopening of Louisiana's economy for at least two more weeks and that hospitalizations for the coronavirus are again a huge concern.

"There is no doubt we have a long way to go," Edwards told reporters. "We still have a lot of COVID-19 in Louisiana. More than we want."

COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus.

The governor said the state is No. 2 in the nation, behind only New York state, in the high percentage of total residents infected with the virus.

The rate of positive cases, which had been hovering around 10%, is now 15.46%, officials said.

"We have clearly turned a corner in the wrong direction," Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for the state Office of Public Health, said of hospitalizations.

Billioux said hospital leaders across the state say capacity at their facilities "is becoming more strained."

The state reported 1,691 more cases of the virus Tuesday, and 96,583 in all.

Worries about the state running out of hospital beds was the top concern in March and April during the initial outbreak of the virus.

Those worries were eased after gains made during and after Edwards' stay-at-home order, but have risen again with cases of the virus on the upswing.

Edwards said the 1,527 people reported as hospitalized Tuesday is the most since May 3 and that the challenge is statewide.

"This is a particular concern," he said.

The 36 deaths reported were the most in the state since May 28.

"We are seeing a tremendous amount of COVID-19, a tremendous amount of spread across the state," Billioux said.

He said that, in some cases, hospitals are having problems even admitting patients.

The governor's announcement means the state will remain in Phase 2 until at least Aug. 7, the day after many schools begin the 2020-21 academic year.

The current directive is set to expire on Friday.

Edwards and others noted that, while there are no easy answers for education leaders, recommendations of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved last week link school plans to whether the state is in Phase 1, 2 or 3.

"At the end of the day schools will open and whatever phase they are in is how they will operate," he said.

Many schools are offering a combination of in-person and virtual classes, and there is some sentiment to delay the start of the school year entirely.

Individual school districts set their own start dates.

The extension of Phase 2 limits restaurants, barbershops, retailers and churches to 50% of capacity.

It also keeps in place recent changes, including a statewide face mask mandate, the closure of bars and a limit of 50 people per gathering.

Edwards said the state does not have to return to the strictest restrictions – Phase 1 and Phase 0 – to get the virus under control.

He said wearing face masks while in public is the key.

"I believe in the people of Louisiana,who have already been able to flatten the curve once and who I know can do it again," Edwards said in a statement that accompanied his announcement.

"We have to do the things we have been talking about all along," he told reporters.

Edwards' directives have sparked controversy, and state Attorney General Jeff Landry has issued a legal opinion that says the statewide face mask mandate is likely unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, criticized Tuesday's announcement. "We're obviously disappointed to remain in Phase 2 for at least two more weeks, and we are just as concerned with the lack of a clearly articulated and creative pathway to a safe, reopened society, school system and economy," Waguespack said in a statement.'

Said the governor, "None of the decisions we have made have been made lightly."

Edwards noted that BESE's public school recommendations followed consultations with the Office of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How many kids should ride on buses amid coronavirus? Louisiana schools working on 'arduous' task

"I think the BESE guidance is absolutely right," he said.

The 11-member panel recommended that students in grades 3 through 12 and adults in schools wear face masks "to the greatest extent possible and practical within the local community context."

"I view it as a mandate," Edwards said of the mask language.

Asked about the reopening of schools Billioux said, "There is just not an easy answer to that."

He said that, while young people do not typically suffer from COVID-19 like older adults, more young people are needing hospital treatment for the virus. 


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.