NO.barsopen.111220.0006.jpg

Ms. MaeÕs bartender Marc Simon sells two beers on the first day of the coronavirus phase 3.3 restrictions in New Orleans Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. The new restrictions allow for bars to serve at 25% inside capacity. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Amid Louisiana's third surge of the coronavirus outbreak, craft brewers and bar owners Wednesday told lawmakers that Gov. John Bel Edwards' COVID-19 restrictions are damaging their operations and threaten to bankrupt their businesses.

Microbrewery representatives told the state House Ways and Means Committee that their taprooms shouldn't be treated the same as bars, which are largely required to shutter indoor operations under the tightened virus rules the Democratic governor enacted last week. The brewers also called for the ability to deliver their beer directly to consumers, like other businesses are allowed to do with their products.

Bar owners criticized Edwards' rules limiting indoor live music performances as too strict, largely unworkable and unnecessary to protect public safety.

"There's nothing here that really makes a lot of sense," said Johnny Blancher, with Rock 'n' Bowl, a bowling alley and nightclub with locations in New Orleans and Lafayette. "We're being overly regulated, and we're in a position where we're losing money hand over fist. It is costing us more to operate than it would to close."

Edwards toughened his coronavirus restrictions on businesses a week ago as Louisiana sees a third spike in cases and hospitalizations of patients with the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus — though many of the complaints to lawmakers involved restrictions that had been in place even before the stricter rules were issued.

Louisiana's health department said 1,288 people in Louisiana were hospitalized Wednesday with COVID-19, more than double the 596 COVID-19 patients hospitalized a month ago. Louisiana's death toll from COVID-19 grew by another 37 confirmed deaths to 6,231.

Hospitals have worried they'll be overrun with virus patients, harming their ability to deliver health care services. In addition to staffing concerns, open intensive care unit beds were shrinking in some parts of the state. For example, only 12 ICU beds out of 157 remained available in the Lafayette region, according to the health department.

The brewery and bar owners said they believe they could safely operate with looser rules.

Republican lawmakers were sympathetic to the businesses — but have few options to change the rules beyond trying to pressure the governor. A judge rejected House Republicans' effort to rescind Edwards' coronavirus restrictions, a case that will be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Ways and Means Chairman Stuart Bishop, a Lafayette Republican, urged Ernest Legier, the governor's alcohol and tobacco control commissioner, to "come up with some ideas, bring them to the governor" for tweaking the rules.

"We need to come up with a plan to start to save these businesses," Bishop said.

Under Edwards' current rules, restaurants, gyms, salons, casinos, malls and other businesses deemed nonessential must limit their customers to 50% of their occupancy rate. Most bars are limited to takeout, delivery and outside seating only. Indoor live music is largely off-limits because of the parameters required for crowds and performance standards. Louisiana continues to have a statewide mask mandate.

The rules expire Dec. 23, but Edwards has indicated he expects to renew them into the new year.