Louisiana loosens virus restrictions; bars can reopen Friday

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Closed businesses are seen on Bourbon Street due to the coronavirus pandemic, in New Orleans, Friday, April 24, 2020. (Max Becherer/The Advocate via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Nearly three months after they were closed because of the coronavirus, Louisiana’s bars, spas and tattoo shops can begin restarting operations Friday, as the state continues to loosen its virus-related restrictions.

Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the latest restrictions Thursday, using the Phase 2 reopening guidance issued by the White House. The changes will allow retailers, restaurants, salons and churches to serve more customers at a time and will let other shuttered businesses reopen with limitations.

“I continue to be very proud of the work the people of Louisiana and our health care heroes are doing to slow the spread of COVID-19 and getting us to the point where we can open more businesses and expand the occupancy of others this Friday,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

Reopening enthusiasm may be dampened slightly as Cristobal, now a tropical depression, was expected to strengthen and appeared headed for a direct strike to Louisiana as early as Sunday.

The easing of restrictions won’t take effect Friday in New Orleans, the state’s original hot spot for the virus outbreak, because city officials want more time to determine how and when they will allow a wider reopening of businesses.

Across the rest of the state, churches, restaurants, coffee shops, gyms, hair and nail salons, museums, casinos and other businesses that had been allowed in mid-May to open at 25% capacity can now move to 50% occupancy.

Bars that don’t have a food permit, massage facilities, bowling alleys, recreational pools and tattoo shops will be able to reopen with specific restrictions by type of business. For example, while bars with a food permit can expand to 50% of their occupancy rate, bars or nightclubs without food permits will be limited to 25% capacity. Self-serve buffets must remain closed.

Ashley Gunderson, supervisor at Petro Bowl in Lake Charles, was looking forward to reopening Friday, with half of the 48 lanes blocked off. She didn’t know what to expect.

“It’s always hit or miss,” she said. “But we’ve had several calls asking when we’re going to open.”

Businesses around the state were promoting reopening plans on social media.

Scaredy Tatts in Bossier City will be ready to ink patrons — appointments only, with priority given to people whose earlier appointments were canceled by the pandemic.

“All appointments will be one on one, please do not bring any extra people,” the shop said in a message on its Facebook page. It asked for patience “because we are getting booked up very quickly.”

The Radio Bar in Baton Rouge posted: “We can’t wait to see all of you!” The nightspot outlined on Facebook its precautionary measures, including temperature checks, masks and gloves for all workers and regular sanitizing of tables and booths.

Casinos will be able to open 75% of their gambling space, but will have to stay at half their full occupancy rate for the entire facility. Live music and theater venues will remain closed.

Employees interacting with the public still will be required to wear masks, and the governor encouraged businesses to consider using temperature checks to determine who can enter their premises.

More than 41,500 cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus have been confirmed in Louisiana, according to the state health department, and 2,772 have died.

But the state also says more than 31,700 people have recovered from COVID-19, and the daily increase in deaths and positive tests has dropped significantly from the height of Louisiana’s outbreak in April. Hospitalization rates and ventilator use continue to decline, though that remains uneven depending on the region of the state. Still, Edwards said he’s no longer worried health facilities will be overwhelmed.

Those factors — along with continued increases in test capacity and virus tracking efforts — were cited by Edwards and his chief public health adviser as reasons to loosen regulations.

For most people, the highly contagious coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.

Edwards continues to caution those most at risk of severe symptoms and death from COVID-19 to stay home as much as possible and all others to wear masks in public and stay distant from those not in their immediate households.

As he eased business restrictions, the governor also extended orders forbidding evictions and foreclosures until June 15 because of the virus’s hammering of the economy, forcing many people out of work.

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Associated Press reporter Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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