NEW ORLEANS – On Wednesday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced a series of new restrictions to the current Phase Two guidelines as part of the safe reopening of the City in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Based on the increase in case counts, positivity rate, and hospitalizations over the past few weeks, we will be implementing new restrictions under the Phase Two guidelines, which will take effect on Saturday,” said Mayor Cantrell. “Restaurants will not be allowed to have bar seating; bars with and without Louisiana Department of Health food permits will be required to use table service only, and no bar seating; and gathering sizes for indoor events will be limited to 25 people.”
Under the guidelines, the capacity numbers include customers but not staff. Restaurants and bars with an LDH food permit in Orleans Parish remain at 50 percent capacity, but bar seating is now prohibited. The 25-person cap on gatherings applies to indoor functions at a private home or event space, and to restaurants holding a private event, and does not include staff. Outdoor gathering limits will remain at 100, and the City is adding stronger language about ordering, loitering and private events to the guidelines. The rest of the guidelines for Phase Two will remain the same – for now.
“We remain very concerned with the current state of virus activity in New Orleans, and the trends have emerged since restrictions were relaxed. Today, Louisiana has the fourth-highest rate of new cases per capita in the country, and cases are rising in every region of the state. Our daily average cases in Orleans Parish have exceeded our established threshold for most of the past seven days. We’ve also seen a significant rise in the rate of positive cases, which has nearly doubled in the last two weeks. Hospitalizations are also rising around the state, including in Region One,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, Director, New Orleans Health Department.
“Because of these concerning trends, and to continue to protect health and safety, we’re tightening restrictions on the activities known to be at the highest risk for virus transmission. Everyone can do their part to turn the tide so that further restrictions will not be necessary: wear a mask, keep physically distancing, and avoid large, uncontrolled crowds.”
The New Orleans Police Department and members of the recently created Enforcement Task Force were out over the past weekend; the Orleans Parish Communication Department’s 311 call center received 91 calls about large gatherings from Friday to Sunday.
Mayor Cantrell reiterated that the City will be guided by the data reviewed over the next few weeks to determine next steps in the reopening process, and will be monitoring whether the City has reached milestones that include:
- Sustained decrease in number of new cases for a 14- to 21-day period
- Consistently testing at 4%-5% of the population
- Working with our federal delegation on testing shortages
- Adequate staffing for contract tracing
- Adequate healthcare system capacity
About Bars and Social Gatherings
Dr. Avegno noted that while local hospitals continue to have robust capacity, this is a lagging indicator of a surge, leading to a need for immediate action. Restrictions are being placed on activities known to be have the highest risk of virus transmission. Whether in New Orleans or nationally, there is evidence of large, uncontrolled and crowded social gatherings that will continue to spur community spread.
The Louisiana Department of Health has confirmed with that many of the known clusters in the state stem from bars and social gatherings. Evidence shows that the virus is transferred more easily the closer people are to one another – the more forcefully they are talking, and if they are in confined spaces without good ventilation. In a bar or similar space, where there is often loud music – meaning people have to be close to each other and talk loudly—and where it’s often challenging for people to maintain strict physical distance and mask wearing, the risk of transmission is much higher.
The City continues to experience a substantial demand for testing in the community. The New Orleans Health Department remains committed to community-based testing at the highest level possible. Testing is key for public health officials to see trends and to plan for the future. That said, Dr. Avegno noted, the City does not yet have a resolution to the supply shortages that have been discussed since last week. The issue has been elevated by the congressional delegation and the COVID-19 team, including directly to the White House Coronavirus Task Force.