By David Jacobs | The Center Square
Louisiana will maintain its current mandates and restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday.
Edwards made the announcement shortly before he and other state officials received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses at Baton Rouge’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, where officials are launching a COVID-19 vaccination clinic they said is capable of serving more than 7,000 people a week.
The current executive order dealing with COVID-19 mitigation expires Wednesday. The new order will extend for 21 days the state’s mask mandate and limitations on crowd sizes and how many people are allowed inside businesses and churches.
“Our conduct should not change in the foreseeable future,” Edwards said.
Restaurants, gyms, barber shops, salons, theaters and most retail businesses in Louisiana will continue to be limited to half of their normal indoor capacity. Places of worship will remain at a maximum of 75% of their capacity or the number of people who can physically distance with at least 6 feet between each immediate household.
For bars in parishes where the positivity rate for COVID-19 tests is above 5%, barrooms are closed to indoor sales and consumption but still can serve up to 50 people outside. Indoor gatherings at event centers and sporting events are limited to 25% capacity, while outdoor gatherings where maintaining physical distance is not possible are limited to 25% capacity or up to 150 individuals.
When looking at the factors state officials consider when deciding on restrictions, the numbers are trending in the right direction but remain dangerously high, Edwards said. For example, hospitalizations are down 22 from Monday to 1,122, which is well below the post-holiday surge seen in early January but still higher than during the summer.
“There has been some progress over the last month or so,” he said. “The baseline numbers remain very high and concerning.”
Edwards also said he was worried about a new strain of the coronavirus, first identified in the United Kingdom, that is more dangerous and easier to transmit. A handful of cases of the new strain have been identified in Louisiana, though officials said there are likely far more cases than have been confirmed.
Still, Edwards expressed hope current rules could be loosened if current trends continue.
The new vaccination clinic at Pennington, launched in collaboration with the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, can serve more than 7,000 people in a week once enough vaccine doses are made available to reach that level, said John Kirwan, Pennington’s executive director.
“Our capacity will only be limited by our supply,” he said.
State officials are expecting a 5% increase in the number of vaccine doses they will get from the federal government next week, but Edwards said he could not commit to sending a set number of doses to Pennington.
Many workers at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, who were among the first to have vaccine access, are declining to get vaccinated. Only 26% got vaccinated when they had their first chance to do so, and that percentage has risen to 38% now that workers at half of the state’s facilities have gotten a second chance, said Dr. Joseph Kanter with the Louisiana Department of Health.