Edwards says regulators can enforce ‘stay at home’ order; hopes it ‘doesn’t come to that’

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Regulators are prepared to crack down on businesses that violate Louisiana’s “stay at home” order, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

He said the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Department of Health could help enforce the order, noting that businesses need permits to legally operate.

“We really hope it doesn’t come to that,” Edwards said.

Edwards on Thursday officially extended his order, which was about to expire, for two more weeks. He had announced plans to do so Monday.

Certain types of businesses, such as salons, barber shops, bars and casinos, are ordered to remain closed. Businesses deemed essential under federal guidelines can continue to operate.

Nonessential businesses can continue to operate as long as they have fewer than 10 people inside. The new order requires employees dealing with the public to wear masks.

While there has been talk about some local leaders loosening restrictions beyond what the state order allows starting Friday, Edwards said local leaders he has spoken to, such as West Feliciana Parish President Kenny Havard, aren’t doing anything that would violate the rules the order sets.

Attorney General Jeff Landry on Thursday urged Edwards to amend his order to allow churches and other houses of worship to meet while following approved guidelines.

“As other states begin reopening and unrest in the Legislature continues, I believe many faith-based congregations will begin to meet with or without guidance,” Landry says in his letter to Edwards. “We are better served by taking a proactive approach by publishing reopening guidelines that take a phased approach to faith services restarting. Without guidance based on best practices in place, this could be disastrous.”

Edwards said services can be held outdoors without violating the order banning indoor gatherings larger than 10, though if service leaders use a tent, they shouldn’t close the flaps. He said attendees who are not part of the same household still should practice social distancing, and members who are sick or are in high risk groups should be urged to stay home.

Edwards said his Oval Office meeting with the president and federal officials lasted about 90 minutes. The governor reiterated how important the federal government’s commitment to help the state ramp up COVID-19 testing is to further reopening the state’s economy, and said he was pleased to discover how much federal officials seemed to know about Louisiana’s situation.

“They were watching Louisiana much more closely that I thought several weeks ago,” Edwards said.

As of noon Thursday, at least 1,862 Louisiana residents had been killed by COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, according to state health officials who also reported 43 additional “probable deaths.”

About 28,000 cases had been reported in the state, though officials believe far more people actually are infected, and more than 17,000 people had recovered.

About 1,600 people with the illness were hospitalized, and 231 of those were on ventilators, officials said.