For the first time in three months, Louisiana is moving forward in its reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Louisiana will enter Phase Three of reopening the state when the current order expires at the end of the week, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday.
Louisiana entered Phase Two on June 5 and has been stuck there ever since. As cases and hospitalizations rose heavily in a second surge over the summer, Edwards renewed his Phase Two order four times: a four-week extension in June, a two-week in July, a three-week extension in early August, and a two-week extension in late August.
The current Phase Two order is set to expire on Friday, Sept. 11. Edwards said he and his team will be working on the new proclamation late Thursday after he visits Vernon, Allen, and Cameron parishes.
Edwards added that he will go into a “deep dive” regarding what Phase Three looks like and the gating criteria his decision was based on in a press conference Friday.
“What I’m prepared to say today is the data is positive enough that we will be going into Phase Three tomorrow,” Edwards said.
Speaking to reporters, Edwards called this “the hardest decision” he’s made regarding the COVID-19 public health emergency. Though the data suggested a move forward, Edwards said it doesn’t take into account all the activity that has been going on in the state over the last month, such as the reopening of K-12 schools and colleges, Hurricane Laura efforts, and Labor Day.
However, he said “it was best” to use the same gating criteria “to have consistency and transparency about what we’re doing.”
To advance in the White House’s “Open Up American Again” plan, vetted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a state must see decreases in reported COVID-like symptoms, cases, and hospitalizations over a 14-day period.
While Edwards said he hopes to avoid moving backward in the reopening plan, he said he will “act pretty quickly” if data over the next few weeks shows a rise in cases and hospitalizations, especially with flu season rapidly approaching.
“We are gonna be somewhat anxious over the next three weeks to get that data in,” Edwards said. “What we do know is if we want to be successful and not have to move back.”
Edwards didn’t get into many details about what the Phase Three order will look like, repeatedly saying, “We will make that announcement tomorrow.” He did, however, say that the statewide mask mandate he implemented in mid-July will remain intact.
Since the governor’s statewide mask mandate went into effect, average daily case counts, positivity rate, and hospitalizations have all gone down, according to figures from the Louisiana Department of Health.
“If we don’t want to go backwards, we need everybody to understand that Phase Three is not a lifting of all restrictions or that covid is no longer in Louisiana — it is,” he said. “Every CDC guideline remains in place and all the mitigation measures remain incredibly important, and we need people to do their part.”