Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to crack down on a Denham Springs restaurant that is still operating despite having its food permit revoked last week for violating COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Firehouse BBQ, located at 33875 LA Hwy. 16, has remained in operation after the Louisiana Department of Health pulled its food permit last Friday. According to officials, the restaurant violated rules requiring customers and employees to wear masks and follow the social distancing guidelines.
During Edwards’ press conference on Thursday — hours after a Baton Rouge judge sided with him in a lawsuit by Jefferson Parish business owners seeking to lift his restrictions — a reporter asked the governor if he planned to “crack down” on Firehouse BBQ.
Edwards answered “yes” to the reporter’s question.
In response to the next question asking what measures might be taken, Edwards said: “We will share that with you when the time’s appropriate.”
“When will that be?” the reported asked.
“When it’s appropriate,” Edwards answered.
According to the July 27 business inspection, Firehouse BBQ, owned by the Bunch family, was docked for tables not being spaced appropriately and employees not wearing face masks.
In the report, the inspector noted that the owner said “some employees have medical conditions that prevent them from [wearing] a face covering and others wear them electively.”
In a July 23 post pinned at the top of Firehouse BBQ’s Facebook page, the owners said “the use of masks for extended periods of time during shifts by our employees has caused several medical reactions that are negatively impacting their ability to perform their positions.”
Firehouse BBQ has remained in operation since its food permit was pulled and has thanked the public for the “overwhelming outpouring of support.”
Earlier Thursday, Judge Janice Clark in the 19th Judicial District ruled to uphold the mask mandate, bar restrictions, and 50-person limit on social gatherings Edwards implemented in July in response to the impact of COVID-19 statewide.
The plaintiffs in the suit were business owners Natasha Cvitanovich, owner of Moby’s Bar and Grill; Ronald Dalleo, owner of Cleary Tavern; Justin Molaison, an attorney and musician; and Jennifer Labella Tusa, owner of catering and events business the Crossing.
During his press conference on Thursday, Edwards said “the evidence is clear” that the added mitigation measures are working, citing a recent decline in reported COVID-like symptoms, cases, and hospitalizations.
In the two-week period ending Aug. 3, eight of the state’s nine regions saw a decrease or plateau in reported COVID-like symptoms; nine were reporting decreases in cases; and six saw a decrease or plateau in hospitalizations.
After reaching 1,600 hospitalizations on July 27, the state is now reporting 1,457 hospitalizations, the lowest since July 17. The state has reported less than 1,500 new cases in each of the last two days, the first time that has happened since June 29-30.
Edwards has repeatedly said any measures he takes are based on data driven by “the recommendations of public health experts and the White House Coronavirus Task Force,” which has designated Louisiana as a red zone state.
“It’s not just that I’m authorized to do it — because we’re talking about lives, I believe that I’m obligated to do these things as well,” Edwards said. “It doesn’t make this easy… but it is absolutely essential, legal, and effective.”
On Thursday, Edwards will sign a new order keeping Louisiana under Phase Two for an additional 21 days, through at least Aug. 28. Though the state has seen “modest but sustained improvements” in our numbers related to cases, hospitalizations, and positivity, Edwards said they are “still unacceptably high.”
“We’re doing better, but we still have some work to do,” he said.