Louisiana is getting ready to open up.
On Thursday, May 14 Gov. John Bel Edwards will issue an updated proclamation — the Roadmap to a Resilient Louisiana: Phase One, which will remove the stay-at-home order for Louisiana citizens and allow additional businesses to open up under certain guidelines on May 15.
Based on the COVID-19 numbers, Parish President Archie Chaisson feels Lafourche could have entered Phase One sooner than that. “I think if we did it on a regional approach, we probably could have opened things up a couple of weeks ago,” he said, “just because when you look at the growth rate as a region and as a parish itself, we were at the point where I think if we followed the same restrictions that we probably could have got people back up and running two weeks ago.”
“I’m happy that he finally pulled the trigger and got us into Phase One so we can kind of get back going,” he continued.
New types of businesses that may open on May 15, with 25 percent occupancy limits, sanitation guidelines and spacing for physical distancing, include: gyms and fitness centers; barber shops and hair and nail salons; casinos and video poker theaters (This opening has been delayed until Monday to give State Police and the Louisiana Gaming Control Board time to implement regulations.); racetracks (not open to spectators); museums, zoos, aquariums (no tactile exhibits); and bars and breweries with LDH food permits.
The occupancy capacity includes customers and employees.
“So the capacity guidelines are all technically enforced by the Fire Marshal’s Office,” Chaisson explained. “I think what you will see from local law enforcement is that we will continue to do what we have been the last five weeks when it comes to crowd gatherings: if we happen to notice something that looks out of hand or if we start to get complaints about a certain establishment or something like that, then I think you’ll see us respond.”
Officers will give courtesy warnings to crowd gatherings, Chaisson said, but repeat offenders could see consequences. The Fire Marshal has the ability to ticket people and issue fines and penalties, he noted. “But also from a parish perspective,” he continued, “if we have an establishment that is a problem…we reserve the right to revoke their business license.”
“But otherwise, we’re going to use a common sense approach and ask people just to be nice and follow the guidelines,” he added. “And overall, people have done that throughout this five-week period. We haven’t had a rash of large gatherings where people were trying to break the rules…So I think you’re going to see that again with these openings.”
Chaisson said he hopes that the parish or state government doesn’t have to reestablish any of the restrictions due to a spike in cases coming after starting Phase One.
“I think as you heard the governor say, and I think as you will hear leadership say across the state, I don’t think he does, or even we do, want another wide crackdown because that’s going to be too hard to pull that amount of stuff back,” he said. “I think what you’re going to see is maybe a regional approach or even a spot approach in Lafourche — that if we see a spike somewhere, then we’re going to address it as needed.”
“I would hope that if we see a spike, we can determine that it’s from a particular region, or a particular place or particular events, and through contact tracing, we can figure out why and deal with it that way versus having to impose a whole set of regulations again,” he continued.
On May 8, Governor John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Health outlined a plan for COVID-19 testing and tracking that would hire as many as 700 people to be contact tracers. At the time of the interview on Tuesday, Chaisson said Lafourche parish officials haven’t gotten the particulars on those contact tracers yet. However, he said local officials and regional medical staff have already been doing contact tracing by acquiring data from the regional testing site in Raceland and from the state and then notifying individuals.
“I think that will become way more important now that things are starting to open back up,” he said. “So if a particular person was in a restaurant or something like that, we can kind of let the restaurant know so they can sanitize and do the things they need to do to keep a lid on things.”
The numbers late last week from the testing site revealed around 10 positives for just over 1,000 tests administered, Chaisson said.
“We had one guy who tested positive, and through contact tracing, we were able to send his entire family to get tested,” he recalled. “And we were able to pick up a couple of additional positives and kind of stave that off before it got too out of hand, which was good.”
The site is averaging about 70 tests per day, Chaisson said, and the extra kits are going to nursing homes so individuals there can get tested.
The parish president also feels confident the community won’t revert after the reopening day.
“People realize that it’s not so much about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting others and it’s a community-wide effort. So most people are wearing masks, which is a good thing,” he said. “At some point, we know that herd immunity is going to take over and we’re all going to get the antibodies. We’re going to work through this thing, but I don’t see us reverting.”
“I don’t anticipate a huge spike even when things start to open up,” he continued. “I really don’t because I think people are going to play it safe and play it cool. We’re going to be okay.”