Amid legal challenge, Edwards administration defends COVID-19 restrictions

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A Baton Rouge district judge could rule as early as Thursday on whether Gov. John Bel Edwards’ restrictions on bars hold legal water.

Judge Janice Clark heard testimony Wednesday from both sides of the argument. The plaintiffs include four Jefferson Parish residents, including two bar owners who claim Edwards’ decision to limit bars to takeout and delivery is unfair — especially when restaurants, including those that serve alcohol, are open in some capacity.

“Give us an equal playing field, and don’t discriminate against us,” said plaintiff Ronnie Dalleo, who owners Cleary Tavern in Metairie. “We’re allowed to make a living under the same guidelines as a restaurant of any other business, with wearing masks and social distancing. That’s all we ask.”

Additional plaintiffs include Natasha Cvitanovich, who owns Moby’s Bar in Metairie; caterer Jennifer Labella Tusa; and attorney Justin Molaison, a part-time musician who books live performances.

Edwards’ chief counsel, Matthew Block, maintains the governor’s team is following White House guidelines on bars. He echoed sentiments Edwards voiced earlier this summer, after bars on Baton Rouge’s Tigerland strip saw more than a hundred patrons and staff test positive for COVID-19.

“You have people drinking, who are close together, without masks, who are talking to each other, talking loudly over music,” Block said.

Dr. Alex Billioux, Edwards’ chief public health adviser, testified Wednesday that he has traced 41 coronavirus outbreaks to Louisiana bars.

“If we have these measures in place and keep them and allow them to work, we will start to see them come down,” Block added. “We have already seen them start to come down this week.”

Louisiana has seen fewer new virus-related hospitalizations and reported cases lately — not counting backlogs — than in recent weeks.

Edwards has extended his statewide order, which also includes a mask mandate, until Aug. 28.

This isn’t the only legal challenge to the state’s virus-related restrictions. At least three lawsuits are pending in state and federal courts, aiming to overturn the governor’s effort.

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