Much of Baton Rouge may finally be reopening, but medical, government and business leaders are warning residents: The coronavirus isn't gone, and you still need to take caution.

One of the biggest ways to do that, they say, is to wear a mask in public places. 

"Everyone sits here and asks 'What can I do? How can I make Baton Rouge safer?' If you wear this hot, sticky, inconvenient mask on your face," said prominent Baton Rouge businessman Jim Bernhard during a Friday press conference in which Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome outlined reopening plans for the city-parish.

Friday marked the first day Gov. John Bel Edwards' stay-at-home order was lifted and certain businesses and public agencies could reopen — as long as they followed social distancing measures that remain in place to mitigate spread of the respiratory virus. 

Broome announced that city-parish buildings, including City Hall, won't reopen to the public until Wednesday. 

"Visitors will be screened at the entryways and everyone will be required to wear masks," Broome said. "How we proceed as a community will determine our future success in the capitol region."  

Broome was joined Friday morning by several members of her Business Roundtable Economic Recovery Working Group, which Bernhard co-chaired. That group has spent the past few weeks brainstorming strategies to help local industry and businesses bounce back in the COVID-19 economy.

Wearing a mask himself while speaking Friday, Bernhard stressed a "grand reopening" of the local economy won't happen if city-parish residents don't take responsibility for the part they can play in helping mitigate spread of the virus.  

Bernhard, who employs about 30,000 people through his private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners, noted he has required all his employees to wear them. 

Health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control, recommend all Americans wear masks during the pandemic. Research shows the face coverings can stop water droplets, which are a major source of transmitting the virus, from making into the air and on surfaces.

"Put on a mask; it's permanent Mardi Gras," Bernhard said. "A mask protects not only you, but someone else. What does that mean? You have a chance to sit at LSU football in Tiger Stadium. You have a chance to have your job back."

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