BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that Louisiana will remain under modified Phase 2 coronavirus restrictions for three more weeks, saying “the state remains in a perilous situation.”
The announcement was made during the governor’s latest COVID-19 briefing as hospitalizations reach a new eight-month high. Edwards said there are signs the state is doing slightly better by some measures, but the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths remain high.
“It appears we’re starting to plateau, but at a very high level,” Edwards said, before going on to warn that things could get worse again if restrictions and social distancing are not followed.
“If we insist on traveling and having those holiday-related activities and gatherings like we normally would, then we’re obviously going to be in even more trouble.”
Gov. Edwards announced a “step back to a revised Phase 2” on Nov. 24, citing a continued rise in the state’s positivity rate and hospitalizations amid what he called an “aggressive third surge of COVID-19 across all regions of Louisiana.”
The decision to maintain restrictions, which include a statewide mask mandate, was not unexpected, as the governor noted in last week’s briefing they would not be loosened. The only question going into Tuesday’s announcement had been whether he would tighten them further, which he decided against.
Under the continuing Phase 2 rules, restaurants, gyms, salons, casinos, malls and other nonessential businesses will have to continue limiting customer numbers to 50% of their occupancy rate. Crowds at churches will stay restricted to 75% of occupancy including for Christmas services.
Most bars likely will remain limited to takeout, delivery and outside seating, because their parishes don’t meet the low percentages of coronavirus tests returning positive required to allow indoor drinking at bars. Indoor gatherings for weddings and events will continue to be limited to 75 people or a maximum of 25% occupancy, whichever is less. Outdoor gatherings have looser limits.
Louisiana is in its third spike of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the state’s outbreak began in mid-March. As of Monday, Louisiana reached a new eight-month high in hospitalizations.
The health department said Tuesday that 1,647 people are hospitalized with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, higher than the hospitalization numbers of Louisiana’s summer surge. Public health leaders are concerned the facilities could soon be overwhelmed if the virus’ spread worsens because of holiday gatherings.
The state is averaging more than 2,000 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus daily over the last week. At least 6,813 people are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 in the state, according to health department data.
The governor’s restrictions are being challenged in court by House Republicans, who sought to nullify a previous version of the rules. A district judge had ruled the process used by the GOP lawmakers unconstitutional, but the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned that decision on a procedural issue Monday and sent the case back to the lower court judge for a new hearing.
The high court’s decision was a technical one that didn’t weigh in on the merits of the lawsuit, the governor’s regulations or the legal maneuver used by the House GOP. Instead, it requires Baton Rouge Judge William Morvant to hold another hearing in the case.
“I am absolutely certain that the statute is in fact unconstitutional,” Edwards said Tuesday. “And I’m certain that when the Supreme Court, if and when it does get to that question, they will decide it as such. Quite simply, we cannot have a system of checks and balances where a simple majority of one body of the legislature can overrule a governor on an issue as important as a public health emergency declaration. There are equal and separate branches of government. Those are the judiciary, the legislature, and the governor’s office. But the House of Representatives is not the legislature, and it really is just that simple.”
Edwards also said Tuesday that he has signed an emergency declaration for elections coming up in the spring to allow for modified operations. He said he has not yet received an emergency election plan proposal from Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin.
Edwards said the state had received all of its allotment of the Moderna vaccine as of Monday and the state is in the process of getting its second allotment of the Pfizer vaccine. More than 22,000 Louisianans have already received their initial vaccination shots, but the governor said there has been some lag in the reporting and the actual number is higher.
The governor said he believes more people will be willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine over time as they see others take it and do well.
“We’re always gonna have a certain element out there who, for one reason or another, tries to prevent people from taking it or convince people that they shouldn’t take it and so forth, and that’s sad. But at the end of the day, we need to get to at least 70% of the people of Louisiana in terms of the percentage of our population that’s gonna be vaccinated in order to achieve the herd immunity necessary to really put this behind us.”
Edwards also said there have been members of the legislature have been “extremely irresponsible” in their messaging and personal behavior in regard to the seriousness of the virus, masking, and social distancing.
“I hope that they will stop that, understand that this is important and it shouldn’t be political. There’s nothing partisan about the disease, there’s nothing partisan about the mask, there’s nothing partisan about the vaccine. And so, hopefully, they won’t and they’ll become more responsible from this point forward.”