Gov. John Bel Edwards extended his modified Phase 2 coronavirus restrictions Tuesday through March 3, despite the state’s recent improvement in some public health metrics.
His current restrictions were set to expire Wednesday.
“There has been some progress over the last month or so,” Edwards said. “The fact of the matter, though, is that the baseline numbers remain very high and concerning.
Edwards and public health officials believe the state is on the back end of the deadly coronavirus surge that began in November and continued through the Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year holidays.
Over the last week, the state averaged 941 new cases each day — a striking improvement over the 3,000 average recorded one month ago.
Hospitalizations have decreased sharply from their Jan. 7 peak of 2,069, but Edwards noted that there are still twice as many hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state than there were during the summertime surge.
But Edwards warned that those positive trends could be wiped out by the U.K. variant of the coronavirus, which is “50 percent more transmissible.” He and state health officials worry that the fast-spreading strain could spread more rapidly during unsanctioned Mardi Gras celebrations in the coming week.
Edwards said he is “hopeful” that he will be able to loosen restrictions when his latest executive order expires next month, if the state is able to maintain its current trajectory.
With the extension, most “non-essential” businesses will remain under 50 percent occupancy limits. Religious services are limited to 75 percent occupancy. Bars are limited to take-out, delivery and outside service in all 64 parishes.
Edwards and other state officials rolled up their sleeves at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge — a site public health officials hope will serve as a template for large-scale vaccine distribution.
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center is staffing and supplying the site by shifting its vaccination effort from the hospital’s main campus on Essen Lane to the Pennington Biomedical Research Center a few blocks away.
Hospital officials say Pennington is better suited for future mass vaccination events, but for now patients will have to book an appointment through Our Lady of the Lake’s scheduling system.
This week, hospital workers will administer 1,300 doses at the new site. Next week, they expect that number to increase to 1,500 because of a bump in their weekly allocation of doses.
Edwards said the federal government has pledged to increase states’ weekly allocation of doses by 5 percent next week.
Earlier this week, Edwards extended eligibility to anyone older than 65, state election workers, and state emergency response workers — including the governor’s unified command group, qualifying Edwards and several other cabinet-level officials.
He and the secretaries of state, labor, transportation and social services received their first doses Tuesday afternoon.
With the latest expansion, more than 1.2 million Louisianans are eligible for vaccination. So far nearly 450,000 people have received at least one dose.