BATON ROUGE – Bars, tattoo parlors, pool halls and other businesses re-open, while capacity expands to 50 percent for restaurants, churches and other establishments under eased COVID-19 restrictions that take effect Friday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards will sign a proclamation Thursday that will remain in effect at least three weeks.

He announced the decision after consultation with the state Department of Health, the Office of Public Health and the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

“We’re showing signs of progress,” Edwards said. “Louisiana is headed the right direction.”

Scot Byrd, chief administrative officer for the City of Gonzales, praised the citizens for that progress.

"We at one time were one of the hardest hit spots in the nation," Byrd said. "We have come down to No. 10 now. That's a tribute to our citizens for what they've done to get us to this point. I was excited to move to Phase 2. It's all because of the citizens."

Byrd said City Hall will remain open until 5:30 p.m. in Phase 2. He added that traffic has returned slowly in some parts of town and strong in others.

Retail is also seeing mixed results in Phase 1, Byrd said. The stores in the old KMart building have taken "maximum advantage," but the Tanger Outlets are rebounding more slowly. He said that is in part reflective of Tanger's regional appeal.

"Their business format is not just a local store," he said. "They have a regional draw; it's the same for Cabela's. Their business model is different. I think that is part of it. That's been slow to come back because people aren't traveling as much."

The governor’s announcement followed daily totals that showed only four deaths, the lowest figure reported since March 22.

The state also dropped from No. 2 to No. 10 in per capita cases across the nation and conducted 206,85 coronavirus tests in May, far ahead of the goal of 200,000 for the month.

The risks remain, however.

“We still have a lot of work to do and we will continue to have restrictions in place,” Edwards said. “We’re not going to be fully back to normal for quite some time, and we’re not likely to be there until we have a vaccine, safe and mass produced and administrated to our people.”

Edwards made the Phase 2 announcement three weeks after the state moved past the “Stay at Home” mandate. The Phase 1 allowed reopening of barber shops and beauty salons, along with churches and fitness centers at a 25 percent capacity.

He urged residents – particularly those with “at risk” conditions – to continue to use caution.

Edwards made the announcement on the heels of a letter signed by Attorney General Jeff Landry and 50 lawmakers that urged him to open all businesses. They criticized his 25 percent occupancy limit and legislation that allowed only certain restaurants and bars to reopen.

He also responded to critics who considered his restrictions too extreme on the state economy.

“I didn’t shut down retailers, and construction and engineering continued,” Edwards said. “Restrictions were far more extreme in other states, and they remain in effect in some states.”