By David Jacobs | The Center Square
Louisiana will leave in place its current mandates meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 at least through Aug. 28, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday.
Edwards’ current executive order expires Friday. The regulations keep bars closed for in-person service, limit many other businesses to half of their usual capacity, restrict indoor crowd sizes to 50 people or fewer, and require most people age 8 and older to wear face coverings.
Edwards said the current measures have led to “relatively modest” improvements, but it’s too soon to say the state’s trajectory has changed.
“We need to stay the course,” he said.
Monday night, the White House approved the extension of Title 32, which allows the state to continue using the National Guard as part of the state’s COVID-19 response, Edwards said. The federal government will pick up 75 percent of the cost, he said.
The coronavirus-related regulations, modeled after “phase two” of the White House-approved restriction guidelines, help control the spread of the disease and prevent the state’s health care facilities from being overwhelmed with patients, state and federal officials say. Business owners have filed lawsuits to overturn some of the restrictions, which plaintiffs say infringe on their constitutional rights and harm their livelihoods.
Plaintiffs who have filed suit in Lafayette say threatened enforcement of the executive order banning on-site service at bars violates the due process, equal protection and takings clauses of both the state and U.S. Constitution. They say the governor cannot show a “real or substantial relation” between closing their bars and the public health crisis because no cases have been traced to their bars.
Three Jefferson Parish business owners have filed suit to overturn altogether the governor’s executive order, including the mask mandate and crowd size limit.
State and federal officials say barrooms cannot operate safely in states like Louisiana with high rates of coronavirus infection. Mingling in bars, leaning in to talk over loud music, removing masks to drink, and the loss of inhibitions when consuming alcohol all contribute to the problem, they say.
Edwards said recent trends show the most recent set of rules are working. Case growth has slowed, the number of people reporting COVID-19-like symptoms has declined, and the number of hospitalizations have plateaued statewide, he said.
But hospitalizations still are rising in three regions and the proportion of tests that come back positive remains above 10 percent, two worrying metrics for public health officials.
Louisiana is first in the nation for COVID-19 cases per capita, with more than 124,000 confirmed cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic. At least 3,937 state residents with the illness caused by the new coronavirus had died as of noon Tuesday, and more than 74,000 patients had recovered.
There were 1,487 COVID-19 patients in hospitals Tuesday and 240 of them were on ventilators, officials reported.
Louisiana, particularly the New Orleans area, was an early national leader for COVID-19 infections during the early days of the pandemic. Strict mitigation measures helped to flatten the curve, though infections spiked again when the restrictions were loosened, motivating Edwards to issue the mask mandate and re-close barrooms.