story by staff reporter Nora Drenner
Phase two opening of the state begins Friday, June 5, with the elderly and those with underlying health issues and compromised immune systems urged to remain at home and have a neighbor or family member pick up essentials such as groceries and medications.
And, employees and the general public are encouraged to wear masks when outside of the home, and businesses are urged to keep employees working from home when possible.
“We still have work to do,” said Gov Edwards during his press conference. “We still have restrictions that have to be in place.” Edwards also commented that getting back to the normal folks enjoyed prior to COVID-19 would likely not occur until a vaccine had been developed and folks were vaccinated.
Furthermore, Edwards said his decision to move to the next phase came after consultation with state health officials including Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health.
Dr. Billoux cited positive signs in the state’s coronavirus data. He noted that as testing increased among folks exhibiting Corvid-like illnesses, the number of positive results had decreased. Dr. Billoux also said contact tracing had increased noting over 600 contract tracers had been hired in recent weeks.
“New cases, reports of COVID-19-like illnesses and hospitals have fallen statewide, “ said Dr. Billoux, however, “some regions of the state are seeing increasing or plateauing metrics. Central Louisiana is seeing spikes in cases and hospitalizations, and Monroe has increasing hospitalizations as well. “
Dr. Billioux also encouraged folks to avoid businesses where people aren’t following health advice such as not wearing masks. “Don’t put your life at risk for something like a bowling game,” Dr. Billioux said in the news conference.
The overall difference from phase one to phase two is that churches, barbers, salons, gyms, malls, coffee shops, restaurants, bars and breweries with food service, theaters are now limited to occupancy rates of 50 percent of normal to allow for the proper six feet of social distancing. The same sanitary protocols and the requirement that employees who have direct contact with the public wear a mask also remain in place.
Additionally, for the first time spas, massage parlors, tattoo shops, event centers, bowling and skating alleys, swimming pools and playgrounds are allowed to open with a 25 percent occupancy rate, and under strict sanitary protocols and the same six feet apart social distancing rules.
Occupancy capacity is based on the gross square footage of the building and the use of the building, as well as the amount of square footage required for individuals to stay six feet apart. The occupancy capacity includes employees and customers.