Louisiana will move to Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced on Thursday.
“What I’m prepared to say today is that data is positive enough that we will be going into Phase 3 tomorrow,” Edwards said.
The specifics will be announced during a 2 p.m. press conference Friday, but it will generally mean fewer restrictions on businesses and activities in the state. The mask mandate will stay in place.
“If we want to be successful in increasing occupancy levels at businesses and churches and those sorts of things, we can do that safely,” Edwards said, “but you still have to wear a mask. And for God’s sake, you can’t wait ‘til you feel ill to start wearing a mask.”
Prevalence studies for COVID-19 in New Orleans and Baton Rouge have shown as many as 75 percent of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic when contagious.
“We have to be extremely careful with this,” Edwards said, calling the decision “very, very difficult.”
Phase 3 comes amid a series of other events that could increase the spread of the virus: the reopening of schools and universities, the recent Labor Day weekend, and the movement of people displaced by Hurricane Laura. He said he feared people would mistakenly view Phase 3 as an indication that the pandemic is easing.
“My concern is that when you say you’re going into the next phase of reopening, people assume that means it’s OK. It’s not OK,” he said.
Edwards stressed that guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remain in place and that people still need to wear masks, keep physically distant from others, stay home if they’re sick, and minimize their activities
“We need people to do their part, and that’s how we can be successful in trying to strike the right balance between public health on the one hand and having our economy open on the other, and more normalcy,” Edwards said.
The latest guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force urges Louisiana to focus on keeping cases down among the 2-1 to 24-year-old age group, Edwards said. Young people have made up a substantial proportion of new COVID-19 cases in recent months, and Lousiana universities have seen a spike in cases among returning students.
The Louisiana Department of Health is reporting 4,991 people have died of COVID-19 as of Thursday. Cases have generally plateaued through early September, with 5.5 percent of tests returning positive results on a seven-day rolling average, according to AH Datalytics.
The criteria for whether to move to Phase 3 includes the number of people with a COVID-19-like illness in emergency departments, the number of cases, the percentage of positive cases, the rate of hospitalizations, and the ability of the state to continue widespread testing. Those factors are considered over at 14-day period.