NEW ORLEANS — The State of Louisiana will not move into Phase 3 of the coronavirus recovery, Governor John Bel Edwards announced Monday.
Edwards cited Louisiana's numbers, which have begun to rise a bit and he said that the case growth in the southern states, which seem to be having outbreaks shows that the hot summer weather isn't stopping the virus.
"This is not the direction we want to be headed in," he said. "We will not be moving to Phase 3 when the order expires at the end of this week." He said that will stay in place for another 28 days, but will be looked at again in two weeks.
"We need to do a better job of wearing masks when we aren't at home," said Edwards.
A move to Phase 3 would have lifted many of the remaining restrictions that are in place during Phase 2, including giving some more leeway to vulnerable people, increasing capacity at businesses and opening up senior care facilities for visitors.
The decision comes as the State Department of Health’s web site posted some grim numbers on Monday with the state surpassing 50,000 cases and 3,000 deaths statewide.
"It is a trend in the wrong direction," said Edwards of Monday's increasing numbers and explaining his decision.
The number of patients in hospitals also jumped about 7% and the number of patients on ventilators went up 11%. There were 2,775 more recoveries, bringing the total to 39,792 people who have recovered from COVID-19.
In Phase 2, most businesses have been allowed to open, but at a maximum of half capacity and a requirement for social distancing.
Echoing Governor Edwards' concerns, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Department of Health, said recent clusters of COVID-19 cases have her concerned.
"Activities that pose the highest risk of transmission are large uncontrolled gatherings like those that might take place at a traditional party or bar. These activities can fuel a rapid rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths," Avegno said Saturday.
Loosening restrictions to a Phase 3 level as spelled out in the White House's plan to Reopen America would essentially move to a level similar to what there was prior to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the White House web site, Phase 3 would allow vulnerable individuals to resume public interactions, but with social distancing. Employers are allowed to resume the "unrestricted staffing" of work sites.
Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals could resume and large gathering spots like theaters and sports arenas would be allowed to open with physical distancing. Bars could also operate with standing room occupancy.
Those moves would be a large leap forward given the status of COVID-19 in some parts of the state of Louisiana and in several places around the country, some of which are having their highest increases in daily case numbers.
Friday, the state health department traced two clusters of coronavirus cases back to Tigerland bars in Baton Rouge and graduation parties in New Orleans.
"They're highly concerning," Region 1 Medical Director Dr. Joseph Kanter said Friday. "Perhaps some of these establishments were not operating in accordance with the perimeters the governor set out. There are occupancy requirements and staff wear masks. It's possible they weren't complying with that."
Phase 2 of reopening is set to expire this upcoming Friday, but as of Sunday, there is no indication the state is ready for Phase 3. Phase 2 could be extended if Governor Edwards believes the state is not seeing enough of a downward trend.
"If these trends continue we may need to go back to more serious restrictions on activity," Avegno said.
"Let's hope we don't have to go back," said Jeffrey Carreras, owner of Tracey's on Magazine Street.
Carreras hopes recent clusters like those linked to Baton Rouge bars won't put more limits on his establishment.
"I don't know if they were lackadaisical in opening, but I think we did a good job in New Orleans. Hopefully, it levels off, and we can move to Phase 3," Carreras said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards's next media briefing is scheduled for Monday at 2:30 p.m. At that time he'll likely announce what direction the state will take this weekend.