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State heads into Phase Three

Gov. Edwards expected to sign proclamation today with restrictions
Friday, September 11, 2020
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Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks about moving the state into Phase Three of reopening during a Thursday press conference.

Louisiana moves into Phase Three of coronavirus reopening today with restrictions including continuation of a mask mandate, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

Edwards said he would release more details on what Phase Three will look like during a 2 p.m. press conference today.

“Phase Three is not the lifting of all restrictions,” the governor said Thursday. “It’s not some announcement that COVID is no longer in Louisiana. It is.”

If the state starts to “go backwards” and cases surge again, “we’ll act pretty quickly” to further mitigate the increase so as not to jeopardize Louisiana’s health care system, Edwards said.

The governor’s announcement came about an hour before the Louisiana Department of Health released the daily COVID-19 report showing the state with 499 new cases and 21 additional deaths.

Lincoln Parish went up four cases to 996 and added one additional death, for a total of 43 deaths since the local COVID-19 outbreak began in March.

During his press conference, Edwards said the decision to enter Phase Three was “probably the hardest I’ve made thus far” because of the as-of-yet unknown impact of Hurricane Laura, the opening of schools and the Labor Day weekend on the spread of the virus.

Edwards said his fear about his Phase Three announcement is “people will hear what they want to hear instead of what they’re being told.”

“My concern is when you say you’re going to the next phase of reopening, everything is OK. We’re not OK,” he said.

Yet, Edwards claims the data supports Louisiana’s moving to Phase Three.

According to the White House Opening Up America Again plan, states can move into Phase Three if they show no evidence of a virus rebound and satisfy the original gating criteria for a third time.

In addition to a downward trend in cases within a 14-day period, that criteria includes hospitals being able to treat patients without crisis care, and a “robust” testing program for at-risk healthcare workers.

States are also supposed to have testing sites for the public, as well as contact tracing.

Phase Three in the White House plan also allows resumption of visits to senior care facilities and hospitals; vulnerable individuals could resume public interaction, but still social distance and be cautious; restaurants, churches, sports venues and movie theaters would be allowed to operate under only limited physical distancing protocols; gyms must adhere only to sanitation protocols; employers could resume unrestricted staffing of worksites; and bars could operate with increased standing room occupancy.

However, states have leeway to tailor the criteria to their own circumstances.

Louisiana began Phase One reopening on May 15, then moved into Phase Two on June 5.

Edwards announced Aug. 4 that the state had seen a surge in cases and hospitalizations traced to Memorial Day gatherings and would remain in Phase Two until Aug. 28.

On Aug. 26, the day before Hurricane Laura hit, Edwards extended Phase Two until Sept. 11.

Phase Two restrictions include limited social gatherings to 50 people and closing bars for on-site consumption.