Beginning of the end for COVID-19 or just Round 1?
It is too early to tell if last Friday's "Phase I" order is the first step on the road to recovery or an ill-advised move that will lead to a new spike of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
There are prophets on both sides of that issue.
Assuming the best, the future is still not crystal clear because it is not known how long "Phase I" will last. It could be replaced with "Phase II" in early June or extended for another two weeks.
Perhaps the most significant positive sign that the "beginning of the end" of the COVID scare is upon us is the reopening of the Paragon Casino Resort on Wednesday. In compliance with Phase I restrictions, the casino will not be able to be at full capacity and gaming spaces will be reduced to better ensure social distancing. Areas and facilities now open include the gaming floor (slots and tables), Market Place Buffet, Gator Coffee, cinema, retail stores, hotel and hotel lobby, Tamahka Trails Golf Course and the RV Park. Other restaurants, Kids Quest and Cyber Quest are not open at this time.
"Phase I" is intended to mark the beginning of the return to normal -- the rebuilding of local economies that have been hit hard by efforts to stop the spread of a potentially fatal respiratory disease.
In mid-March the state mobilized against COVID-19 with some preliminary guidelines. Within a week, the guidelines had become an order with significant restrictions -- including the banning of dine-in restaurants and the closing of recreational areas like bars, bowling alleys, museums, etc.
Even children's playgrounds in the parish were surrounded by "crime scene" tape.
The "two weeks to beat COVID" measures were eventually extended to May 1. Although some restrictions were eased on May 1, the stay-at-home order in major part was extended to May 15.
The Police Jury went back to its regular work schedule for all employees last Friday and lifted the "COVID curfew." The courthouse reopened to foot traffic, but the number of visitors may be limited. Plexiglass barriers in parish offices will better protect the public and employees directly serving them from possibly spreading the airborne disease.
Many city halls also opened to allow a few customers at a time in, with a priority given to those residents paying overdue water bills.
The State Supreme Court gave the go ahead for courts to resume operation. District Judge William "Billy" Bennett said court is back in session this week, to a limited degree.
"There will be no jury trials until July," Bennett said. "We will be spreading court procedures out. Instead of everyone showing up at 9 a.m., we will schedule appearances for every 30 minutes during the day.
"On criminal court days, there will be staff at the first floor entrance to allow only a few people in at a time," he continued. "We will be limiting the number of staff for the prosecution and public defender."
In addition, everyone in court must wear a protective face mask and be at least six feet apart.
The first post-COVID jury trial is currently scheduled for July 13.