Louisiana launches online portal for COVID-19 business rules; Gov. Edwards says he might consider regional reopening

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has launched a new online platform meant to provide quick updates to business owners when COVID-19 mitigation rules that affect their businesses change.

The website also allows consumers to file complaints about businesses that may not be following the rules regarding indoor capacity, wearing masks or other issues, officials said Monday.

While the state has been under Edwards’ “stay at home” mandate, some business owners said they didn’t realize they were allowed to stay open if they followed proper safety protocols. Businesspeople who register at opensafely.la.gov will find details about what they’re able to do now, and how they’re allowed to do it, and will get updates specific to their business when rules change, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said.

This weekend, restaurants, while still required to keep their dining rooms closed, were allowed to begin letting people eat outside but not offer tableside service, and many put up tents to accommodate diners. Browning said his office got a few complaints from the public that some restaurants were not following the rules, which include allowing for social distancing and requiring employees who deal with the public to wear masks, but did not find evidence to support the complaints.

Edwards said he remains hopeful Louisiana will be able to move into the first phase of the White House-approved plan to remove restrictions meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus on May 15, though the state’s approach might not follow all federal guidelines (which are meant to be flexible) to the letter. Edwards had also expressed that hope before extending his prior order last week.

Though Edwards has refused to seriously consider a regional approach to lifting restrictions, he said increased testing capacity, which provides more ability to identify hot spots, makes that possibility more realistic. The federal government is helping Louisiana ramp up to 200,000 tests per month, officials say, which would exceed the total number of tests performed so far in the state.

As of noon Monday, at least 1,991 Louisiana residents had died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, officials reported, along with 73 “probable deaths.”

Almost 30,000 cases had been reported, while more than 20,000 people are believed to have recovered. Just over 1,500 people were hospitalized with the illness, and 220 of them were on ventilators, officials said.

Louisiana currently is seventh in the nation in cases per capita, after being second a few weeks ago, Edwards said.

Edwards urged Louisiana residents to continue practicing mitigation methods such as social distancing and avoiding groups of people. Though Louisiana’s order does not require the general public to wear masks, the governor said he was concerned that more people were not doing so.

“It’s a very minor inconvenience compared with what we’re up against,” he said.

Public Policy Polling, a Democrat-affiliated firm in North Carolina, on Monday released survey results showing broad support for Edwards’ handling of the pandemic and response. PPP found 64 percent of voters agree with Edwards’ decision to extend the “stay at home” order compared to 31 percent who say it should have been allowed to expire at the end of last month.

Edwards’ handling of the crisis generally was supported even by a plurality of Republicans, PPP found.