New Orleans Adds Restrictions as State COVID-19 Cases Spike

Virus Outbreak Global
Edif Madrid, right, and Rosa Guillen wait in a line for COVID-19 testing at a mobile testing site in New Orleans, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Testing sites in New Orleans have been running out of their daily allocation of tests within minutes of opening. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — COVID-19 is showing an alarming statewide rise in Louisiana, and New Orleans will soon restrict bars and restaurants to table service in hopes of reducing the disease’s resurgence, officials said Wednesday.

“We have a statewide epidemic. It’s no longer one or two regions,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at his weekly coronavirus briefing.

While New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued new regulations, the governor didn’t make any statewide move to restrict bars, which the state health department identified Wednesday as the focus of 36 outbreaks that infected 393 people with the novel coronavirus.

The new data released by the Department of Health showed another 68 cases were traced back to 16 outbreaks involving restaurants, 11 outbreaks — and 423 cases — to food processing facilities and 16 outbreaks to industrial settings where 117 people were infected. The department did not provide details on the locations of any of the 135 outbreaks, which don’t include those in nursing homes, jails or other places where people live close together.

Cantrell said the new order for New Orleans bars and restaurants will take effect at 6 a.m. Saturday, along with a limit of 25 people for indoor gatherings.

“It doesn’t come easy, I have to say, but it’s necessary,” she said.

Statewide orders limiting restaurants to 50% of capacity and bars without food permits to 25% remain in effect. “If a bar or restaurant held a private event, it would be subject to the 25-person limit,” said Sarah Babcock, communications director for the city health department.

Cantrell said she is worried by weekend crowds on New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street and is talking with business owners about what might be done. Outdoor gatherings remain capped at 100, “and a safety officer for every 50,” she said.

The new restriction also means restaurants with bars cannot let patrons wait there for their tables.

“Bars often have loud music, and people have to be very close to hear each other, and talk loudly” — both of which increase the risk of transmitting the virus, said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, head of New Orleans’ health department.

Louisiana has the nation’s fifth-highest per capita rate of cases, with numbers rising in every region, Edwards said.

The Democratic governor said the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has doubled since mid-June. He said hospital CEOs and medical directors around the state told him in a Wednesday call that they face staffing challenges, slow test results and shortages of remdesivir, which can cut several days from COVID-19 patients’ hospital stays.

“Hospitals are really a lagging indicator of a surge. We may not see the full impact there for two weeks,” Avegno said.

The Department of Health reported more than 70,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,231 deaths on Wednesday, increases of 1,891 cases and 20 deaths since Tuesday. It said 1,022 patients were hospitalized, with 105 of them ventilators.

Public health experts say the actual infection rate is probably much higher than the number of confirmed cases because most people have only mild or no symptoms, and so many of them don’t get tested. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

Edwards said he isn’t considering a statewide mask requirement, preferring to let local officials make those decisions and stressing personal responsibility. Several Louisiana cities or parishes require face coverings. They include the cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport and Jefferson Parish, a New Orleans suburb.

Rather than adding restrictions for bars, Edwards said his administration is focusing on enforcement of his existing regulations on businesses, including bars and restaurants. Inspectors have made 3,100 compliance visits to businesses around the state over the last 10 days, he said.

But he cautioned that he could consider tightening regulations if the compliance checks don’t change the state’s trends.

“If this proves to be insufficient in getting our numbers back under control, we will do whatever is necessary to make sure that we don’t lose the capacity at our hospitals to deliver life-saving care,” Edwards said.

 

By AP reporters Janet McConnaughey and Melinda Deslatte

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