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Dr. Alex Billioux, Louisiana Department of Health

JBE: Bars must meet strict requirements to reopen; restaurants have relaxed capacity limits

Businesses will be able to accommodate more people under the Phase Three coronavirus measures outlined by Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday.

But Edwards' latest proclamation, which takes effect Friday night and will last at least 28 days, will keep bars closed to on-premises drinking for now but with a chance of opening soon where the spread of COVID is contained. Bars have been allowed to continue drive-through or curbside sales and to apply for permits to serve food in order to stay open.

The statewide mask mandate will remain in place.

The highlights from Edwards' Friday press conference:

--Many businesses, including restaurants, churches, salons and gyms, have a new, higher capacity limit of 75% with social distancing, which is part of all the Phase Three mitigation measures. Many businesses had been restricted to 50% capacity.

--Bars can reopen for on-premises drinking only if they're in a parish where the two-week average positivity rate for COVD-19 tests is 5% or less. Only five parishes, which the governor didn't specify, currently meet that standard.

Even in parishes that meet the criterion, the parish government must agree to allow bars to open. Bars will be limited to 25% of capacity up to 50 customers indoors, and wait staff members must serve customers at tables.

Bars must stop selling alcoholic beverages at 10 p.m., and customers must leave by 11 p.m.

No one 18-20 will be allowed in bars.

--Social gatherings such as weddings and birthday parties at indoor venues will be limited to 50% of capacity up to 250.

--Casino limits will remain at 50% of capacity and 75% of gaming positions.

--Sporting events will be limited to 25% of capacity, and no alcoholic beverages may be served.

--In a departure from the published White House Coronavirus Task Force Phase Three rules, no nursing home visits will be allowed for now, Edwards said. But a pilot program is in the works that would allow limited visits outdoors, which pose a smaller risk of COVID-19 spread, in parishes with a two-week positivity rate of 5% or less.

The caution regarding nursing homes is because 40% of Louisiana's COVID-related fatalities, or more than 2,000, have been among nursing home residents, Edwards said.

Bars had been identified as source of COVID-19 spread months ago, much to the displeasure of bar owners who filed at least two as yet unsuccessful lawsuits over the closure of their businesses.

Another source of concern has been the spread of COVID-19 among people 18-29, said Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health. That group has led the way in the post-Memorial Day increase in coronavirus cases.

The focus is on 18- to 20-year-olds, who are heading back to school, Billioux said.

"This is an age group that we could see continue to increase," Billioux said. "Just as we saw last time, where this group led, the other groups follow after that."

Although Edwards said changes may be made as the data warrant, this may be the last major change in coronavirus measures before a vaccine is available.

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