By David Jacobs | The Center Square
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday said he would not change any of the regulations currently in place to control the spread of COVID-19, keeping the state in a modified version of “Phase 2” of the White House-approved mandates through January 13.
The staged rollout of COVID-19 vaccines brings hope that the pandemic will end at some point next year. But Louisiana remains in a precarious situation as the death toll and number of people who are hospitalized continues to climb, officials said while urging residents not to hold large holiday gatherings with people from different households.
“We’re too close to the finish line to make mistakes now, mistakes that are permanent and can’t be undone,” Edwards said.
Restaurants, gyms, barbers, salons, theaters and most retail businesses will continue to be limited to half of their normal indoor capacity. Places of worship will remain at a maximum of 75 percent of their capacity or the number of people who can physically distance with at least six feet between each immediate household.
For bars in parishes where the positivity rate (the proportion of COVID-19 tests that come back positive) is above 5 percent, barrooms are closed to indoor sales and consumption but can still serve up to 50 people outside. Indoor gatherings at event centers and sporting events are limited to 25 percent capacity, while outdoor gatherings where maintaining physical distance is not possible are limited to 25% capacity or up to 150 individuals.
At last count, there were 1,647 patients with COVID-19 in Louisiana hospitals, which is higher than the peak of the state’s second surge during the summer, and the number of hospitalizations was growing in six of the state’s nine regions. However, the rate of hospitalization growth has slowed in recent days, and the statewide positivity rate has fallen from 10.2 percent to 9.3 percent, officials said.
At least 6,813 Louisianans with COVID-19 have died since the beginning of the pandemic, state officials say. Almost 291,000 cases have been identified, and officials believe almost 233,000 of those people had recovered as of Dec. 14.
“The vaccine is the off-ramp,” Dr. Joseph Kanter with the Louisiana Department of Health said. “It’s how we get out of this pandemic.”
LDH has begun posting vaccination information on its public COVID-19 dashboard. Louisiana received 28,275 vaccines this week, down from the 40,000 state officials initially were told to expect.
Hospital workers and residents and employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities are first in line, based on federal guidance. People older than 74 and certain “frontline” workers, such as teachers and emergency responders, are in the next group.
Edwards said Louisiana largely will continue to follow federal recommendations for vaccine prioritization, though there may be small deviations based on state-specific factors. People who rely on dialysis will be “very close to the top” of the list, he said.