As the state’s COVID-19 numbers continue to improve after a harsh winter surge, Gov. John Bel Edwards indicated that he may loosen COVID-19 restrictions when his current order expires next week.
Louisiana has been under a modified Phase Two order since Thanksgiving week, just as the state was entering its third COVID-19 surge since the pandemic began last March. The current expires on Wednesday, March 3.
Over the last several weeks, new cases, percent positivity, and hospitalizations have been trending downward to their lowest levels in months. Additionally, the state continues to plug along in its vaccination effort, with more than 925,000 doses administered since mid-December.
Though he came short of guaranteeing to loosen restrictions when the current proclamation expires, Edwards said he expects “new features” to be included in the next order.
“Obviously when you look at the trends, they are good,” Edwards said. “I would anticipate that we would have a new proclamation, meaning not just an extension of the current public health emergency proclamation… but that there will be new features in that.
“But I will make that announcement to you all on Tuesday.”
Louisiana experienced its “biggest spike to date” over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, which prompted Edwards to issue more restrictive limits on businesses and social gatherings.
Under the revised Phase Two, most non-essential businesses were reverted to 50-percent capacity while indoor (25-percent capacity or 75 people) and outdoor (25-percent capacity or 150 people) social gatherings had greater limitations. The order also shut down indoor bar service in most parishes.
Edwards has since extended the order three times, first in December, again in January, and most recently in February.
After a prolonged third surge of the virus, the state has seen signs of improvement as daily case increases, weekly percent positivity, and hospitalizations have gone down.
The most recent seven-day case average was 526, down from a peak of 2,995 on Jan. 8. Statewide percent positivity for the week of Feb. 11-17 was 5.00 percent, a dramatic drop from the peak of 13.50 percent from Dec. 24 - Jan. 6.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, a key factor in the state’s reopening plan, have decreased in 32 of the last 37 updates from the Louisiana Department of Health. Since reaching a high of 2,069 on Jan. 8, they have fallen by 1,390.
Dr. Joe Kanter, state health officer, said the reasons behind Louisiana’s improvement in its COVID-19 numbers are “multifactorial,” citing a greater adherence to mitigation measures as well as a more receptive attitude toward vaccinations. More than 332,000 people have completed the two-dose series, while another 593,000 have initiated it. There are currently more than 2,000 vaccine providers in the state.
Despite a recent drop in testing due to the Mardi Gras holiday and last week’s rare winter storm, Kanter said, “We’re no question going in the right direction.”
Edwards said he will go over the gating criteria in the coming days and make an announcement regarding his next proclamation during a press conference on Tuesday, March 2. He urged people to continue following the mitigation measures as they have been.
“We are in a better place, and I want to thank the people of Louisiana for that,” Edwards said.