Gov. John Bel Edwards confirmed Tuesday that Louisiana will remain under Phase 2 coronavirus restrictions for another 21 days as the state attempts to build upon recent gains in its fight against the virus.
The extension, which also applies to the governor’s statewide mask mandate, closure of barrooms and 50-person cap for public gatherings, will maintain the status quo through at least Aug. 28, though Edwards has previously indicated that the restrictions will likely remain in place even longer.
“We see early signs that the mask mandate is working, by our own data,” Edwards said. “And we know from recent studies and experiences in other states and countries that mask mandates, distancing and bar closures absolutely work.”
Dr. Alex Billioux of the Louisiana Department of Health said reports of new cases and patients with COVID-19-like illnesses are decreasing across the state.
“They are still dealing with hospital capacity crunches, but we are not in the dire straits we were looking at a couple of days ago,” he said.
Statewide hospitalizations have plateaued, but Billioux notes that they are decreasing in the Acadiana and Southwest Regions, providing much needed relief for their strained hospital systems.
“We made early fragile gains, but in order for this to continue, as we all need it to, we need everyone’s help,” Edwards said.
But several Louisiana business owners have filed lawsuits challenging Edwards’ social distancing measures.
Firehouse BBQ, a Livingston Parish restaurant, is flouting Edwards and state health officials by serving customers without a food permit after theirs revoked for refusing to comply with Edwards’ mask mandate and social distancing requirements.
Edwards called the restaurant owners’ actions “reckless and irresponsible,” and said his administration will take additional legal action against the business.
Edwards and the governors of five other states have entered into an agreement to buy 3 million rapid antigen tests to help states quickly identify coronavirus cases.
Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio and Michigan will each receive 500,000 point-of-care COVID-19 tests, which will return results in 15 to 20 minutes.
Edwards said rapid testing is “crucial” in controlling COVID-19 as the state loosens restrictions in environments like schools, workplaces and nursing homes.
Recent testing backlogs at commercial labs have made it difficult for states to assess the prevalence of the virus in real time. Edwards said the widespread use of point-of-care tests could be an effective workaround, and public health officials say faster results would allow infected individuals to isolate themselves sooner, potentially limiting the spread of the virus.
The tests will be manufactured by Becton Dickinson and Quidel, but Edwards said other details, including their cost and when and where they will be available, have not yet been finalized.
Edwards said by combining their purchase power, the six member states will solidify their standing in the marketplace and help reduce costs.
“COVID does not know any borders and by working together we strengthen our response, improve testing access and ultimately help our communities become safer and healthier,” Edwards said.