Edwards moves state to Phase One, urges continued compliance
BATON ROUGE – The shift from a Stay at Home order to Phase One in the COVID-19 pandemic will take effect Friday, but compliance with new regulations will determine how soon the state moves forward, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Haircare and nail salons can reopen, along with indoor seating for churches, restaurants, theaters and other facilities – but all must adhere to limits on head counts to maintain social distancing.
Phase One will remain in place until at least June 5, Edwards said. He will announce June 1 if the state will advance to the next phase.
Public cooperation will dictate that decision.
“Let me emphasize that we’re not back to life as we knew it before COVID-19 – a new normal is in place,” he said during his press briefing Monday at the State Capitol. “I’m asking everyone to play their role to ensure we can be extremely successful instead of going backwards, which would be the worst possible thing we can do for out state economy and our workers.”
Advisors from the Governor’s Office, the Louisiana Department of Health and epidemiologists based their decision on the trend in cases.
A flattening in the increase of new cases per day, along with a sharp decrease in the number of patients in hospitals and those on ventilators paved the way to the decision. They also based the final call on the threshold criteria issued by the White House.
“We’re moving toward the right balance with this plan, in which we can reengage with our economy, get employees back to work, customers back at restaurants and so forth,” Edwards said.
The ramp-up in testing – which began statewide Monday – also played a role.
The federal government met its commitment to resource the state with collection kits which will enable to state to conduct 200,000 coronavirus tests per month, he said.
The 25 percent occupancy could still be a tough pill to swallow for businesses that have either been shuttered or held to strict guidelines on service. Some have said they cannot afford to reopen under the Phase One mandates.
“Obviously, it’s unfortunate, and our goal is not to keep them from reopening, but we’re trying to balance safety on one hand and the need to get people back to work and stores and restaurants on the other,” Edwards said. “If you look at the 25 percent, it’s been pretty common across the country, and in states that never reached our level in terms of cases per capita.
“This is to allow for the strict social distancing called for through White House guidelines – it’s not arbitrary,” he said. This is based on square footage and making sure people can engage safely.”
The 25 percent occupancy rate is based on the advice of public health officials who recommend that people generally have 110 square feet around them. This occupancy capacity includes customers and employees.
The State Fire Marshal and the Louisiana Department of Health will continue issuing guidance to different types of businesses about Phase 1 in the coming days, in order to ensure that businesses and churches can safely operate to the maximum level allowed in Phase One.
Business owners and faith leaders can register at OpenSafely.la.gov to receive this guidance, which will also be placed online.
With the exception of gaming establishments, no church leader or business owner is required to register or to get approval of their opening plans in advance. Registering for the Open Safely site is not required to reopen, but it is encouraged as it will allow businesses and churches to get the latest information quickly.
Phase One guidance will allow essential businesses, as defined by CISA, to remain open. Non-essential businesses (sometimes called “gray area” businesses) and places of worship may remain open at 25 percent of their occupancy. All business owners should read the order to understand which category their business falls into.
New types of businesses that may open beginning on May 15, with 25 percent occupancy limits, sanitation guidelines and spacing for physical distancing include:
- Gyms and fitness centers
- Barber shops and hair and nail salons
- Casinos and Video Poker
- Racetracks (not open to spectators)
- Museums, zoos, aquariums (no tactile exhibits)
- Bars and breweries with LDH food permits
The following businesses remain closed: massage establishments and spas, tattoo parlors, carnivals, amusement parks, water parks, trampoline parks, arcades, fairs, bars and breweries without LDH food permits, pool halls, contact sports, children’s play centers, playgrounds, theme parks, adult entertainment venues, and other similar businesses.
All business owners should review the updated order, which will be formally issued on Thursday, to understand if their business can be open as of May 15.