NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana moves into Phase 3 of reopening Friday at midnight, and some big changes are coming with it.
Anywhere but in New Orleans, which has decided to stay in Phase 2, a night out to dinner will have fewer empty seats.
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Friday afternoon that new restrictions allow restaurants to seat up to 75% of capacity.
“Restaurants, churches, salons, spas, gyms, other businesses generally speaking will be able to open at a maximum of 75% of their occupancy, but with social distancing,” said Gov. Edwards.
Casinos will stay at 50% capacity and live music is still prohibited.
Bars across the state can only open in a few parishes. Restrictions allow parishes whose case positivity rate remains below 5% for two consecutive weeks to opt-in to bar opening.
Even then, they will face strict rules like table service only, capacity restrictions, and a 10 p.m. last call.
Plaquemines Parish chose Friday night to opt-in. Parish representatives wrote in a press release, “Parish President Kirk Lepine and Sheriff Jerry Turlich have agreed that Plaquemines Parish is prepared and is ready to move forward in Phase 3 re-openings.”
As Dr. Alexander Billioux explained, closing bars and mandating masks has worked to flatten the curve in Louisiana.
“Since the mask mandate, since the closure of bars, and the limitation of social gatherings to 50 people or less COVID-like illness has come down consistently, again across every region,” said Dr. Billioux.
Across Louisiana, private events and weddings can now have up to 250 people or 50-percent capacity outdoors.
Event planner Amanda Price, who owns Amanda Price Events, believes it will place an even bigger squeeze on struggling event spaces in New Orleans, which are still under phase two guidelines.
“It’s a massive difference. We’re talking an intimate wedding versus a wedding that, for some people, that’s what they were expecting to begin with,” said Price, who has postponed 18 weddings due to COVID-19 this year. And while none of her clients have yet asked to move to a parish bordering Orleans, she anticipates phone calls will be coming.
“We definitely anticipate that we are going to see a mass exodus of events moving from Orleans Parish to one of the outlying parishes.”
Under the new Phase Three guidelines, you still can’t visit your loved ones at a nursing home. The Louisiana Department of Health has been working on a pilot program, though, that will introduce outdoor visits at some facilities.
Families and residents across the state have been desperate to reconnect. CEO of Poydras Home, Erin Kolb, said earlier this week, “A lot of our residents and our families are still very upset and distressed that they have to continue to be separated.”
But these rules could stay in place for some time.
“There really isn’t a lot of room for movement forward beyond phase three until we get past the pandemic. Because until such time as social distancing isn’t required, then how do you ever go to 100 percent?” said Governor Edwards.
The statewide mask mandate does not change.
The governor speaks again Monday.