Phase 3: Some things change, some don't

Phase 3 may not look as different as Louisianans had hoped it would, but we will be looking at it until at least Oct. 29, when Gov. John Bel Edwards will decide whether the state moves to Phase 4.

While there will be some easing of restrictions in the current phase of the state's reopening plan -- restaurants and other businesses can have 75 percent capacity -- some things won't change at all.

In his Sept. 11 press conference, Edwards said bars in most parishes will still be unable to have on-premises drinking. Parishes that have had less than 5 percent positivity rates in COVID tests for two weeks will be able to "opt in" for their bars to open with restrictions.

Nursing home visitation is still prohibited, although state officials are working on developing an outdoor visitation program for nursing homes in parishes with less than 5 percent positivity rates.

As of the end of Phase 2, Avoyelles' official weekly positivity rate for Aug. 20-Aug. 26 was 5.4 percent and the rate for Aug. 27-Sept. 2 was 5.6 percent.

Edwards said the next update will be reported Sept. 16 for the weeks of Sept. 3-Sept. 9 and Sept. 10-Sept. 16.

Edwards said many workplaces will be allowed to operate a full staff, although he stressed that the safest place for individuals at high-risk for COVID-19 is home. He also said that some workplaces may be limited to 75 percent capacity and so some employees will continue to work at home.

BYE-BYE HYBRID

One question on public school parents' minds since schools opened two weeks ago was what would happen if Avoyelles Parish went to Phase 3.

APSD Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said the decision has been made that, beginning next Tuesday (Sept. 22) its bye-bye hybrid program and hello 4-day on-campus. However, those 2,100 students who chose the "virtual option" will be able to continue that model of instruction.

"We have enough kids in the virtual model that we can meet all requirements for Phase 3," Dauzat said.

Those requirements include 75 percent capacity and social distancing "to the extent possible."

"What that means is that there may possibly be a class or two with 22 students where we might not be able to meet the social distancing requirement," Dauzat said, adding that there may be no such cases.

School buses were a major concern about opening under Phase 2 restrictions of 50 percent capacity and social distancing -- which Dauzat had said this summer would actually reduce buses to about 25 percent capacity. He said there should be no problems with any buses exceeding the Phase 3 requirements.

NURSING HOMES

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of the "COVID Quarantine" has been denying family members and close friends the ability to visit loved ones in the nursing homes. Edwards said he realizes the sacrifice, but steps have to be taken to protect the state's most vulnerable citizens.

He said 40 percent of the COVID-related deaths have been in nursing homes. The elderly are not as able to fight the disease and many also have underlying health conditions such as respiratory illnesses, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The pilot program would be set up in parishes with 5 percent or less positivity rates for two weeks and no new cases within the last 14 days.

Bars in parishes with "high" rates of COVID-19 will continue to be closed for on-premises customers. However, in those five parishes around the state with 5 percent or less positivity over a two-week period, the parish governing authority can "opt-in" for bars to open under some restrictions. Those bars would be able to continue operating unless their parish's positivity rate rose above 10 percent, at which time they would be closed and not be able to open until the parish met the two-week 5 percent requirement, Edwards said.

PHASE 3 AT-A-GLANCE

Other aspects of Phase 3 include:
* Limiting indoor gatherings -- weddings, receptions, reunions, etc. -- to 50 percent capacity and 250 attendees maximum. Outdoor gatherings will have to meet the same restrictions if social distancing is not possible.

* High-risk/vulnerable individuals can resume social interaction, but should practice safety measures -- wear a mask, remain six feet apart, wash hands often.

* As noted, there is no overall change to the nursing home visitation ban. The Louisiana Department of Health is developing a pilot program for low-incident parishes. More details will be released soon.

* Restaurants and most other businesses' capacity is raised to 75 percent, with appropriate social distancing. For restaurants, alcohol cannot be sold after 10 p.m.

* As noted, bars in most parishes must remain closed. Those in parishes with under 5 percent positity rates for two weeks will be able to open with 25 percent capacity -- 50 patrons maximum -- indoors and a 50-patron seating capacity outdoors. Bar service ends at 10 p.m. and customers must leave by 11 p.m. Nobody under 21 will be allowed in a bar.

* There is no change to casinos' restriction of 50 percent capacity and 75 percent of gaming stations. Alcohol cannot be sold after 10 p.m.

* Gyms can open with 75 percent capacity but must maintain social distancing.

* Churches' capacity increases from 50 percent to 75 percent.

* Edwards said sporting venues will be capped at 25 percent capacity. While not an issue for high school sports, college and pro sporting venues cannot sell alchohol.

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