When the first COVID-19 cases started appearing in the U.S., we had some very scary examples of what happened in other countries, with this disease overwhelming and even shutting down healthcare systems. Almost all of the original restrictions that state, local and federal officials put in place here, like stay-at-home orders, mask-wearing, business closures, etc. were aimed at slowing down the spread of the virus so we wouldn’t run out of ICU beds and ventilators. We had seen that happen in places like Italy, and it was very, very bad. Nothing you’d want to have happen here.
The good news is, though we had many cases of COVID-19, such an overwhelming of the healthcare system did not happen here. From that perspective, everything we’ve done over the past few months to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent overwhelming our healthcare system have been well worth it.
From Staying at Home to Slowly Reopening
On May 15, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an order to move Louisiana from a strict stay-at-home order into Phase 1 reopening. Phase 1 did not end the public health emergency that the governor declared in March, and it did come with a strong recommendation that people continue to stay home as much as possible, especially those who are at higher risk of contracting and having serious outcomes if they caught the novel coronavirus. This includes people like those over 60, diabetics, people with high blood pressure or obesity, and people with lung or heart ailments. Phase 1 said those folks should still stay home.
Phase 1 divided businesses into “essential” and “non-essential“ for this stage of reopening. The non-essentials included amusement parks, water parks, arcades, concert and music halls, adult entertainment venues, bowling alleys and bars that didn’t serve food. It also grouped certain personal care and grooming businesses, like massage parlors and estheticians, into the “non-essential” category and kept them closed.
For the businesses that were considered “essential“ and able to begin reopening, places like restaurants, hair salons and retail stores, employees were required to wear face masks, and staff and patrons had to practice social distancing, keeping at least six feet apart. Restaurants, for example, were only allowed to operate at 25% of their capacity, to put on very tight social distancing rules. Waiting rooms disappeared from doctor’s offices and beauty shops. And churches were allowed to re-open, following the same 25% capacity/social distancing/face mask rules.
As of June 6, Louisiana is moving to Phase 2 of reopening, which we expect to last at least 21 days. This means that the state has (mostly) hit federal criteria for entering the next phase, which includes a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases and having robust testing and tracing resources in place.
How is Phase 2 of Reopening Different from Phase 1?
According to the steps the governor outlined, in Phase 2, the businesses that began reopening in Phase 1 can move from 25% to 50% capacity, as long as they follow the same guidelines about employees wearing face masks and everyone staying at least six feet apart. The governor is expected to sign the proclamation Thursday evening. This article from the Advocate lays out the basics and we’ll update this post when the list of those businesses is reported.
Some types of businesses that remained closed during phase one can begin reopening up to 25% capacity, also with the rules about face masks and social distancing. See a list of those businesses, which include children’s play centers, theme parks and bars and breweries that don’t serve food.
In Phase 2, we still cannot have live entertainment events like concerts or festivals at indoor venues, but those events can take place outdoors, with social distancing restrictions.
The Phase 2 recommendations still encourage people who can work from home to continue to do so. It also speaks specifically about people who are at high risk for bad outcomes and suggests they continue to avoid other people and shelter in place as much as possible. And, the recommendation is that all of us wear a face mask when we are in public, to help limit the spread of disease. You may remember I wrote about why that is so important.
The state’s plans on reopening are clear and easy to understand. This is a great document with simple graphs and charts by the Louisiana Department of Health. It does a nice job of laying out how the state is doing in its fight against COVID-19 by region.
Keep Calm and Keep Washing Your Hands
I know it feels like it’s taking forever, but the Straight Talk is, the state is making really good progress against COVID-19, and if we stay on this trajectory, we’ll be opening up even more in the next month or two. But to get there, we all have to keep playing ball. Wear your masks in public. Stay six feet away from people when in public. Wash your hands for 20 seconds very often.
We’ve come a long way, but it is NOT time to throw up your hands and say, “I’m done with all the rules!” Not just yet. The last thing we want is to backslide and have to return to restrictive stay-at-home orders because cases start growing again.
Hang in there, Louisiana! You’re doing a great job!