Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday said Louisiana will stay in Phase 3 for another four weeks, as he made another key decision on coronavirus restrictions amid a dangerous hurricane that had its sights set on southwest Louisiana.
“There just isn’t a lot further to go in loosening restrictions,” Edwards said. "Phase 3 will remain the same through Nov. 6."
Edwards said he soon will have protocols for fairs and festivals, which would be able to submit plans to state officials for review on a case-by-case basis.
The numbers are looking encouraging but hospitalizations have moved up slightly over the past few days, he said. Louisiana has seen a plateau of cases in recent weeks, even after many schools have welcomed at least some students back and bars have slowly reopened.
Edwards said 27 of 40 parishes that qualify for reopening bars so far have done so.
"It's your hard work that has slowed the spread, by wearing masks, by social distancing," Edwards said. "All of this amounts to saving lives."
And the governor blasted what he saw as a "partisan effort" by some Republican lawmakers to kneecap his ability to issue emergency orders and lift all coronavirus restrictions.
The move to extend Phase 3 – in which the state is expected to stay until there's a vaccine unless another surge in cases causes him to ratchet restrictions back up – comes as the GOP-dominated state Legislature is in a special session aimed in part at giving lawmakers more authority over his restrictions.
The Phase 3 extension includes a previously-announced update allowing alcohol sales in football stadiums. The newest order will expire Nov. 6. The current order was set to expire Friday.
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Edwards said on WWL radio he is working with lawmakers on keeping the state's unemployment fund from going bankrupt, moving coronavirus recovery dollars and other issues. While he said he's open to giving the Legislature more information about his decisions on coronavirus rules – something many Republicans have said they want – Edwards rejected the idea he would hand over power over the decisions to lawmakers.
Many conservative Republicans, particularly in the state House, are seeking to lift all of Louisiana's coronavirus restrictions, or at least give themselves an up-or-down vote when the Democratic governor tries to issue a new order.
"There is not a single thing I have done that is inconsistent with the White House Coronavirus Task Force guidelines," Edwards said. "They’re being extremely partisan and quite frankly they’re being extremely dishonest.”
The decision to extend Phase 3 is not unexpected. Edwards has indicated the state would likely be in a form of Phase 3 until there is a widespread vaccine or treatments for the coronavirus. The state is also expected to continue to have a mask mandate until then.
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Phase 3 allowed bars to reopen if parishes saw their percent positivity, the share of tests that come back positive, remain below 5% for two straight weeks. Several parishes, including East Baton Rouge, have since moved forward with reopening bars, with restrictions mandated by the state that they only offer table service and close by 11 p.m.
If parishes see their percent positivity exceed 10% for two straight weeks, they must close bars down again. The White House has told state officials percent positivity is a strong indicator of outbreaks, and have suggested keeping close watch of the metrics.
Louisiana has seen a plateau of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, an encouraging sign for health officials monitoring the outbreak. Still, health experts warn the state could see yet another spike this fall if people back off their precautions, like mask-wearing and social distancing.
That would be particularly troublesome because the surge would coincide with flu season, which already stretches hospitals thin.
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