Louisiana loosens restrictions, moves to Phase 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan

Officials warn Louisianians not to equate looser restrictions with zero COVID-19 risk

Gov. John Bel Edwards
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (Photo by Wes Muller/LA Illuminator).

Because Louisiana’s COVID-19 numbers are “currently moving in the right direction and have been for the past several weeks now,“ Gov. Edwards announced during a Tuesday afternoon press conference that he is moving the state to Phase 3 of its coronavirus reopening plan.

The state’s mask mandate and recommendations regarding social distancing will remain in place, but Wednesday will mark the first time since late November that Louisiana has been in Phase 3, which means businesses can operate at 75 percent capacity and people can gather indoors at up to 50 percent of a building’s capacity. 

Bars will be allowed to open at 25 percent capacity across the state, but in parishes where the percent positivity rate for the coronavirus is below five percent, they will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity.

Explaining his decision to move to a phase with fewer restrictions, Edwards said, “All the gating criteria that we typically look at: percent positivity, cases and hospitalizations are much better than they were.”

Edwards moved the state from a Phase 3 to a more restricted “modified” Phase 2 during Thanksgiving week.  The state’s COVID-19 numbers had skyrocketed from 172 per 100,000 people the week before Thanksgiving to 474 per 100,000 the week of Thanksgiving, a 175 percent increase.  He said then, “There are no magic tricks to be worked here. The only way you stop the search is by these restrictions and mitigation measures…. If somebody had presented me another option, a better option, about flattening the curve, I would have taken it.”

The state has been in that “modified” Phase 2 since then.

Louisiana’s percent positivity rate for COVID-19 was 10.2 percent when Edwards moved the state to Phase 2. Tuesday, according to the most recent numbers from the Louisiana Department of Health Louisiana’s positivity rate was 5.2 percent.

Blake Miguez, the chairman of the Louisiana House Republican caucus, said the announcement to loosen COVID-19 restrictions “is a step forward on a long journey ahead.”  Miguez and nearly every Republican in the House tried in October to use a petition to temporarily suspend Edwards’ ability to continue making public health emergency declarations. Edwards claimed that the petition process was unconstitutional.  A state judge agreed but the Louisiana Supreme Court said the judge should have ruled on other matters before addressing constitutionality question. That issue remains in court. 

“Business owners, employees, parents, and students are all eager to start rebuilding their livelihoods and futures,” Miguez said in a statement to the Illuminator. “ There are still many challenges ahead in rebuilding Louisiana economy.  I look forward to the opportunity to do my part in the rebuilding process working towards a more prosperous Louisiana.”

Edward’s decision to loosen restrictions comes the day after he announced a million COVID-19 vaccine shots have been administered in Louisiana. Edwards is scheduled to receive his second dose of the vaccine on Tuesday afternoon.

Joe Kanter, the state’s health officer, said Louisianans shouldn’t “equate relaxed measures with there being zero risk.” He said the more contagious and transmissible COVID-19 variants are still out there and another surge is still possible.

“We are not out of the woods by any means,” Kanter said. “There remains risk and reasons for people to remain vigilant. The only difference now is that we know a lot more about how to keep ourselves safe.”