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Louisiana Shifts Back Into Phase 2, But This Time It's Different

Ben Depp

Louisiana is moving back to Phase 2 of reopening as the state grapples with a third surge of coronavirus cases.

Gov. John Bel Edwards made the announcement Tuesday afternoon, just two days before the Thanksgiving holiday. His executive order takes effect Wednesday and will keep Louisiana in a modified version of Phase 2 until Dec. 23. The move comes a little more than one week after the White House Coronavirus Task Force warned that the state’s Phase 3 restrictions were inadequate.

Under the new guidelines, most businesses will be limited to 50 percent occupancy — down from the 75 percent allowed in Phase 3. Most bars will have to stop serving people indoors and churches will be capped at 75 percent of their capacity.

Indoor gatherings are capped at 75 people, regardless of the building’s occupancy limit. Outdoor gatherings are capped at 150 people. Wedding venues and event spaces are limited to 25 percent occupancy.

Attendance at high school football games will once again be capped at 25 percent of stadium capacity. The reduction comes just weeks after Edwards allowed high schools in some parishes to fill 50 percent of their stadiums.

The restrictions aren’t likely to affect family Thanksgiving gatherings, but Edwards and state public health officials are imploring people not to mix households as they celebrate.

“We are in for a rough patch and the degree to which we flatten the curve and whether or not we are successful depends on how everyone responds to this announcement,” he said.

The third surge reached Louisiana later than many other parts of the country, but Dr. Joseph Kanter of the Office of Public Health said the outbreak in Louisiana is as bad now as it has ever been.

Cases are increasing in all nine of the Louisiana Department of Health’s administrative regions. As of Tuesday, 1,052 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide — the highest total since August, but still well below the peak of nearly 2,000 in April.

“We were lucky for a few weeks watching the rest of the country really go up and up with COVID,” he said. “That luck has clearly run out now and we are clearly where the rest of the country is.”

Kanter said Louisiana hospitals have not yet exceeded their capacity, but increasing numbers of cases are delaying emergency care for some patients.

“The challenge here is that by the time you reach capacity in your hospitals, that’s too late,” Kanter said. “Hospitalizations lag a good couple of weeks before you first see cases go up. It takes some time to turn this ship around, so you can’t wait to act.”

And because the surge in cases is happening in nearly every part of the country, Kanter said it is unlikely that Louisiana hospitals will be able to augment their overworked staff with healthcare professionals from out-of-state.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.