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As Louisiana's COVID-19 numbers improve, when is the right time to reopen businesses?

Experts say that moving too quickly could undo all the good social distancing has done for Louisiana.

NEW ORLEANS — Non-essential businesses in Louisiana have been closed since early March to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus.

But, as we start to see the rate of new cases and deaths flatten out in the state, some people are anxious to see the local economy reopen.

State Representative Mark Wright, R-Covington, wants the state’s stay at home order lifted at the end of April, when it’s currently set to expire.

“I think we’re going to face a point in the near future where we’re going to lose a lot more people’s livelihoods than we know,” Wright said. “Clearly, we still got a lot of health risks. So, there is no doubt we want to be respectful of that and respectful of what the governor has done.”

Epidemiologist Susan Hassig from the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine maintains more Coronavirus testing needs to be in place before people start mixing again in public.

“Definitely the thing that public health personnel are most worried about is not basically losing all the benefit we had from this social distancing,” Hassig said. “Without that (testing) capability and the capability to conduct serologic testing to figure out who is already historically exposed and recovered, we are really in a very difficult position.”

Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise said the state needs to at least start planning how to open things back up again.

“You have to at least be able to start opening things back up again, because there are a lot of jobs that won’t still be around if we do this much longer,” Scalise said. “That would cause its own problems.”

GNO, Inc President and CEO Michael Hecht said it’s important to get back to business in a smart and responsible way.

“I’m hopeful that, if we continue to flatten the curve here and if we have the right advancements with the immunity tests we’re hoping for, that perhaps we can begin to see some type of slow transition in like the May timeframe,” Hecht said. “It absolutely is not going to be like flicking a switch. It’s going to be phased.”

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Rep. Scalise agrees with a phased in approach to reopening the economy.

“I think it needs to be worked together with health experts and economists that understand how to blend the two and say how can we go back in a safer way, but where we do start to go back to work, where we do start to open our economy back up again,” Scalise said.

Dr. Hassig cautions against moving too fast even with a rolling reopening.

She suggests large events like the Jazz Fest and French Quarter Festival may have to be postponed until next year. Right now, they are expected to be postponed until this fall.

“From my perspective, I just don’t see large events happening in the fall,” Hassig said. “It may be football without people in the stands.”

Congressman Scalise said it’s too early to make a judgement on what football would look like in September.

“It might be the case where (football games) would be okay,” Congressman Scalise said. “Right now, we don’t know that.”

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