- Associated Press - Friday, September 11, 2020

New Orleans (AP) - Bars in a handful of Louisiana parishes will be allowed to re-open under new, looser coronavirus restrictions announced Friday by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Bars in the state have been closed since July unless they have licenses to operate as restaurants. Under the guidelines announced Friday, bars in parishes where the percentage of positive COVID-19 deaths is 5% or below for four weeks can open if parish leaders give the OK, Edwards said.

Dr. Alex Billioux, an assistant state health secretary, estimated the criteria currently apply in only five of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, which are the equivalent of counties in other states. New Orleans (contiguous with Orleans Parish) fits the criteria but Mayor LoToya Cantrell has made clear bars will remain closed for the time being. None of the state’s other large cities are in parishes that meet the two-week, 5% threshold. Those parishes, based on Friday’s health department statistics, are Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist, Jefferson Davis and Bienville.

Bars that are allowed to open will be limited to 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 people. Patrons will have to remain seated. Alcohol sales must cease at 10 p.m. and bars must close at 11 p.m. Those under 21 will not be allowed in bars. Live music is still prohibited.

Among other statewide “Phase Three” restrictions announced Friday: Restaurants, spas, salons, gyms and other businesses can operate at 75% capacity - up from 50% - if they can maintain social distancing. Indoor events such as weddings will be limited to 50 percent of a building’s capacity or up to 250 people.

A statewide mask mandate will remain in place. Visitations at nursing home remain off limits but Edwards and Billioux said the state is working on a pilot program that would allow limited outdoor visitation at facilities in parishes with less than 5% test positivity - and no new cases in 14 days.

Edwards expressed confidence the move from Phase Two restrictions to the looser Phase Three rules will succeed if people adhere to them. But, while he said there will likely be modifications, he held out little hope for more expansive openings any time soon. “There really isn’t a lot of room for movement forward beyond Phase Three until we get past the pandemic,” he said. “Until such time as social distancing isn’t required, how do you ever go to 100%?”

The latest plans were released on the day the number of coronavirus-related deaths in Louisiana surpassed 5,000. Hospitalizations, however, continue to drop, totaling 723 in Friday’s figures. There had been nearly 2,000 hospitalized in early April, when the state was a national hot spot for infections. There was a second peak of 1,600 in late July during a resurgence of the disease. Other factors - including a percentage of positive tests consistently below 10 percent, and a lower rate of COVID-like illnesses reported to authorities - prompted the governor’s decision to loosen restrictions.

In New Orleans, Cantrell’s bar-closure order is tougher than the state’s. Bars closed under the state order can offer takeout or pickup service. In new Orleans, takeout drinks are banned.


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

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