Gov. John Bel Edwards Sept. 1, 2020

Gov. John Bel Edwards in Sept. 1 file photo. 

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday the data is positive enough to move to Phase 3.

Louisiana will move into Phase 3 of the coronavirus recovery beginning Friday, six months after the first case was reported in the state, Edwards said.
 
"This is the hardest decision I've had to make to this point," he said. 

Edwards said that moving to Phase 3 does not lift all restrictions. He continues to encourage social distancing, masks and hand washing.

"Phase 3 is not the lifting of all restrictions," Edwards said. "It's not some announcement that COVID is no longer in Louisiana. "It is."

While Edwards has not yet laid out what all of Phase 3 in Louisiana would entail, the White House Phase 3 recovery includes no limits on people returning to work, allows visits to senior facilities, and includes limited distancing at restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums, and churches.

One of the biggest lingering questions pertain to bars, which have been shut during phase 2.

It was also unclear how the order may effect the current statewide mask mandate.

Since the conclusion of the mandatory stay-at-home order, which began on March 22 and ended on April 13, Louisiana has been gradually moving through the reopening process. 

The governor said that he would be traveling to Vernon, Allen and Cameron parishes after Thursday's conference to inspect storm damage, and would have more details about the Phase 3 proclamation Friday at 2 p.m.

“I am encouraged by the governor’s announcement that the state will be moving into Phase 3 of reopening," House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said. "It is past time. Businesses across Louisiana are ready to get back to 100%. The people of Louisiana are ready to get back to work."

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced she will not be lifting any of the city's coronavirus restrictions when the state moves into Phase 3 of its reopening plan on Friday.

New Orleans will not change its current rules for now, Cantrell said at a press conference with New Orleans Public Schools officials Thursday afternoon. 

"The city of New Orleans is in Phase 2 and we will remain in place, we will continue to let the data drive us but where the data has driven us today is to ensure our kids are returning to school starting next week," Cantrell said. 

Cantrell's announcement was not a surprise. The mayor has said several times in recent days that she planned to wait to loosen restrictions until officials could gauge how the reopening schools for in-person learning, the beginning of college classes and the influx of evacuees from Hurricane Laura impacted the city's infection rates.
 
According to instructions detailed by the White House, Phase 3 of the reopening process would involve the following measures:
  • Vulnerable persons to resume public interactions with physical distancing so as to minimize exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practical, unless precautionary measures are observed.
  • Those who are considered 'low risk' will be encouraged to consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
  • Most employers will be allowed to resume the unrestricted staffing of their job sites.
  • Guests will once again be allowed to enter senior care facilities and hospitals, though those who interact with residents and patients must be diligent regarding hygiene.
  • Large venues such as sit-down dining restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues, and places of worship will be allowed to operate under limited physical distancing protocols.
  • Gyms will be free to remain open as long as they adhere to standard sanitation protocols.
  • And, bars can operate with increased standing room occupancy, where applicable.

Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes each made separate pleas to Edwards last week to allow Louisiana parishes where the virus is under control to open up before the rest of the state. 

But experts warned that such a piecemeal approach could be risky in a state that just suppressed its second major wave of infections and urged caution amid a series of converging events — including school openings and displacements from Hurricane Laura — that are likely to cause another rise in cases.

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