Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday that the state will not move forward with the phased reopening of the state’s economy due to a recent uptick in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Edwards said Louisiana will remain in Phase 2 for another 28 days. He challenged Louisianans to rededicate themselves to slowing the spread of the virus by wearing masks and limiting public interactions.
Louisiana surpassed two grim milestones Monday — more than 50,000 known cases and more than 3,000 deaths. The state department of health has identified approximately 4,000 new cases and 98 new deaths over the last week.
“Some had hoped, thought, believed that this virus would go away once we got to the summer. It’s clear that is not happening,” Edwards said. “We do have a new normal whether we like it or not.”
Staying in Phase 2 means restaurants, churches, gyms, salons and most other businesses will have to operate with a 50 percent occupancy limit. Bars without a food permit are limited to 25% occupancy.
Last week, Edwards warned that several regions of the state were failing to meet the “gating criteria” required for the further loosening of restrictions. He and state health officials described the increase of cases and hospitalization in the Acadiana region as “alarming.”
The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) reported Monday that cases were either increasing or plateauing in all but one of the state’s nine administrative regions.
“Across multiple regions now we’re seeing an increase in cases, and that case increase is translating to hospitalizations,” Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Alex Billioux said. “It’s not just a factor of tests. These are people who are getting sick from COVID and certainly are at a higher risk of dying from COVID.”
People between the ages of 18 and 29 make up the largest percentage of new cases. In recent days, state health officials have identified a series of COVID-19 clusters tied to so-called “super-spreader events.”
Friday afternoon, the LDH said at least 100 people tested positive for COVID-19 after going to bars in Tigerland near Louisiana State University. The department said that anyone who went there last week should consider themselves exposed and self-quarantine for 14 days.
In New Orleans, about 30 people came down sick after attending a graduation party.
Billioux said the false sense of security among people that age is likely driving not just the increase in cases among their peers, but facilitating the spread of the virus among older, more vulnerable populations as well.
“They’re people who fuel the spread of this illness across the state,” Billioux said. “They’re people who may be going home to their parents' houses. They’re people who may be going to visit their grandparents on holidays.”
Edwards said he has no plans to require people to wear masks in public, quarantine out-of-state travelers from coronavirus hotspots, or reimpose Phase 1 restrictions.
Instead, he is urging the Department of Health and State Fire Marshall to increase compliance checks at businesses across the state. He warned that businesses that refuse to abide by public health regulations could have their business licenses revoked for 30 days.
“Certainly, you try to do that with as light of a hand as possible,” Edwards said. “I think the vast majority of businesses are operating responsibly, but we need to make sure the rest do as well.”
He said at this point, no businesses have had their licenses revoked or suspended.
Edwards said he will do a “deep data dive” with state health officials in two weeks and provide a detailed update to the public.