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Louisiana returns to Phase 2 as coronavirus cases spike

Mask wearing and social distancing will still be required. The new rules take effect Wednesday and expire on Dec. 23.

NEW ORLEANS — Gov. John Bel Edwards has toughened restrictions on businesses and gatherings as Louisiana sees the third spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Edwards says the state moved back into a "modified Phase 2", decreasing customers allowed at restaurants, gyms, salons, casinos, malls, and other nonessential businesses from 75% of their occupancy limits to 50%. Crowds at churches will be capped at 75% of their capacity.

Most bars are limited to takeout, delivery, and outside seating because restrictions require parishes to have low percentages of coronavirus tests returning positive to allow indoor drinking at bars. High school football game crowd sizes limits have been shrunk to 25%.

Mask wearing and social distancing are still required. The new rules took effect Wednesday and expire Dec. 23.

"We are in for a rough patch," Edwards said on Tuesday. "To the degree to which we flatten the curve, and in fact whether or not we're successful, is going to depend upon what every Louisiana does in response to this announcement today."

Edwards warned that Louisiana may have to tighten measures even further if this current coronavirus spike does not fatten. He pleaded with people to mask up, stay six-feet apart from others outside of their households, and to hold small gatherings for Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season.

"If there was ever a time to step up and be a good neighbor... that time is now," he said.

Here are the changes coming to Louisiana for the next four weeks:

  • Sporting events are limited to 25% capacity
  • Gyms and fitness center limited to 50% capacity
  • Restaurants, coffee shops, cafes limited to 50% capacity
  • Casinos and video poker are limited to 50% capacity
  • Non-essential retail is limited to 50% capacity
  • Churches and places of worship limited to 75% capacity
  • Indoor gatherings limited to 25% occupancy or up to 75 people
  • Outdoor gatherings limited to 25% occupancy or up to 150 people
  • Bars can be open to on-premises inside consumption for parishes under 5% positivity. Bars with positivity OVER 5% can do outdoor consumption. Still capped at 25% capacity.

"We know that these things will work, but we've got to have more compliance, more adherence to the restrictions and mitigation measures," Edwards said.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force's weekly report for Louisiana said the state is now averaging more new cases of the virus than the national average. Edwards' Deputy Chief of Staff Christina Stephens said that the report shows that the situation in Louisiana has grown "ever more dire."

The report shows that Louisiana had 474 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week, compared to the national average for states at 356 new cases per 100,000. COVID-19 hospitalizations also increased by 27 percent between Nov. 14 and Nov. 20. During that time, on average about 125 patients with confirmed cases of the virus and 26 patients suspected to have the virus were admitted into hospitals across the state each day.

"What we're seeing now is as concerning as it's ever been," Louisiana Assitant State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter said. "We were lucky for a few weeks watching the rest of the country really go up and up with COVID, and we were sitting here kind of waiting. That luck has clearly run out now."

Last week, that same task force described Louisiana's COVID-19 mitigation efforts as "inadequate" and needed to be increased to contain resurging virus cases.

On Tuesday, Louisiana reported an additional 3,266 new cases and 39 deaths from the virus. More than 6,300 Louisianans have died since the outbreak was first detected in early March.

RELATED: Track COVID-19: Louisiana Coronavirus Outbreak Map

RELATED: Federal officials hope to distribute 40 million COVID-19 vaccines by end of 2020

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The Associated Press contributed to this report