Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has eschewed new restrictions that other states have put into place to stem a recent resurgence of the coronavirus, instead offering up a strategy of promoting compliance with the existing rules.
So far, the state is taking a soft line toward enforcing them.
State officials with the Fire Marshal Butch Browning’s office, along with the Louisiana Department of Health and the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, have inspected 3,910 businesses since May 4, according to Browning spokeswoman Ashley Rodrigue. Those uncovered 433 businesses that had at least one violation – but resulted in zero citations or penalties.
As Louisiana continues to see weeks-long increases in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, health officials have tracked hundreds of cases …
Instead, officials are giving businesses multiple opportunities to start following the rules before they are issued a citation or shut down, a relaxed approach that has allowed restaurants, bars and other establishments to remain open after running afoul of the regulations.
"When a violation is found at least on the sanitarian side, people are given the opportunity to correct that violation and then a follow up visit is done,” said Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary of the state’s Office of Public Health. “If the violation has been corrected at the follow-up visit, there's usually not a citation."
The vast majority of the visits, 3,612, were so-called “courtesy visits,” which are proactive checks that Edwards has held up as the primary strategy for ensuring businesses are complying with the rules.
As Louisiana continues to experience worsening coronavirus trends, state and federal officials are ramping up testing sites and will start to …
Only 298 inspections were done in response to complaints, which the public can make through a phone line, social media or on the fire marshal’s website. The state’s reopening website, opensafely.la.gov, initially had a portal to file complaints, but Rodrigue said it was removed to address a glitch it was causing. Republican state lawmakers had lambasted it as a “snitching” feature.
The approach is similar to the one seen in Orleans and Jefferson parishes over the Fourth of July weekend, where officials received more than 2,200 complaints about coronavirus rules, but only issued a few warnings. In Texas, on the other hand, the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission has suspended dozens of permits for bars not following the rules.
Rodrigue, with the fire marshal’s office, said in an email that complaints are handled by either Browning’s office or the Health Department, depending on the type of complaint.
For instance, if the state receives a complaint about businesses not following rules that require employees to wear masks or disinfect surfaces, Health Department “sanitarians” take over. The fire marshal’s office handles social distancing and capacity limits, according to a flow chart provided by the Health Department.
Louisiana lawmakers gave final legislative approval Monday to send $250 “hazard pay” checks to up to 200,000 frontline workers and came close …
When a state official arrives at a business for a proactive “courtesy visit,” they go down a checklist of 11 questions, including whether social distancing is maintained between individuals, tables are spaced out, groups do not exceed 10 people, and a staffer is controlling occupancy.
“If a violation is found, the business is instructed to address the violation immediately. The business is to be visited again within two business days,” Rodrigue said in an email. “If all is well, the ‘case is closed.’ If the same violation is found, or new violations are found, consideration will then be given to take actions including a citation for violation of the governor's order, revocation of (health department) and/or (Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control) licensure (if applicable). If a third violation is found, a cease and desist is on the table.”
Between June 26 and July 5, the state did 1,007 inspections at restaurants, 663 at retail stores, 401 at bars, 329 at business/organizations, 323 at salons or personal care establishments, 70 at casinos, 55 at fitness clubs, 50 at places of worship, 40 at amusements or museums, 26 at events centers, 19 at libraries and five at theaters.
With cases and hospitalizations rising in Louisiana and its neighboring states, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday signed an order that keeps t…
Wendy Waren, vice president of communications for the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said the organization has a “very good relationship” with Browning, and has provided information to members about how to comply with regulations well before the pandemic. She said the organization is “pleased” at the state’s working relationship with the industry.
“We’re constantly talking about compliance, especially right now because we don’t want any instances where our members are publicly shamed for any reason,” Waren said. “We have enough problems in our industry right now without having someone capture a restaurant doing something incorrectly.”
The Health Department on Wednesday released a list of settings where officials have tracked the most outbreaks of coronavirus. While the list is likely a severe undercount given the state’s troubles with contact tracing, bars posted the most outbreaks, with 36 outbreaks tied to 393 cases. That was rivaled only by food processing plants, 11 outbreaks and 423 cases; and industrial settings, which had 16 outbreaks and 117 cases.
"While LDH has not yet issued any citations there are businesses who have chosen to voluntarily close when they have learned they have COVID positive employees. That we do not track," said Aly Neel, spokeswoman for the health department. "By and large, at least on complaints related to COVID positive employees, education by our sanitarians and epidemiologists has worked quite well. It's only if after followup by our epidemiology team for multiple positive employees and if we felt that the business would not take the necessary measures that LDH would issue a citation."
Bars have come under particularly heightened scrutiny among public health experts around the country for their propensity to spread the virus among guests. Texas shuttered bars in recent days amid a surge in cases and Florida banned the consumption of alcohol at them, while Edwards has kept them open in Louisiana.
“The problem is people stand at the bar, drink something, talk, talk probably loud because there’s music on,” said Dr. Susanne Straif-Bourgeois, associate professor of epidemiology at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans.
New Orleans on Wednesday issued new restrictions requiring bars to only operate through table service, not at the bar itself.
Straif-Bourgeois said the list of outbreaks is “highly underreported,” but she’s not surprised to see bars high on the list. Indoor settings are more conducive to the spread of the virus, she added, and “it’s always safer to be outdoors” as opposed to inside an establishment.