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Dr. Joseph Kanter speaks Tuesday at Gov. John Bel Edwards' press conference in Baton Rouge.

Gov. Edwards issues new restrictions to slow COVID-19 surge

Louisiana will move back into a modified form of Phase 2 coronavirus restrictions, mostly lower capacity limits for businesses and gatherings, in an effort to slow the state's surging numbers of new COVID cases and hospitalizations, Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a Tuesday press conference.
The mitigation measures will continue to include the statewide mask mandate. Also:
-- All Louisianans are encouraged to avoid gatherings of individuals not part of their households.
-- All businesses, private and public sectors, are encouraged to use remote work where they can.
-- All restaurants are limited to 50% of their indoor capacity. Restaurants should move as much dining outdoors as they can. Social distancing is required.
-- For bars in parishes above 5% positivity, bars are closed to indoor sales and consumption but open for outdoor consumption at tables only and at 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 people. Social distancing is required. Take-out and delivery will still be available.
-- Retail businesses at 50% capacity, except for essential businesses, as defined by federal guidance from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
-- Gyms may be open at 50% of their capacity.
-- Places of worship will remain at a maximum of 75% of their capacity or the number of people who can physically distance with at least six feet between each immediate household. The state fire marshal will put out additional COVID mitigation measures to make services safer.
-- Barber and beauty shops, and nail salons may open at 50% of their capacity.
-- Movie theaters may open at 50% of their capacity.
-- Indoor gatherings at event/receptions centers are limited to 25% capacity or up to 75 individuals.
-- Outdoor gatherings at event/reception centers are limited to 25% capacity or up to 150 individuals when strict physical distancing is not possible.
-- All sporting events will be capped at 25% capacity.
Edwards planned to sign a proclamation later Tuesday to put the renewed mitigation measures into effect Wednesday for 28 days.
The governor encouraged private and public employers to maximum telecommuting. And, as the holiday season and traditional family gathering times approach, Edwards urged people to plan activities in ways that will keep people safe, including avoiding gatherings with people from outside their immediate households.
Dr. Joseph Kanter of the Louisiana Office of Public Health said Louisiana officials watched for weeks while states around the country began to see rapid rises in COVID cases and hospitalizations while the situation remained relatively stable here.
"That luck has clearly run out now," Kanter said, calling the current situation "as concerning as it's ever been."
Kanter said emergency room visits for COVID or COVID-like symptoms, new cases and hospitalizations up nearly everywhere across the state.
Edwards pointed to the number of weekly new cases, which stands at 474 per 100,000 members of the Louisiana population. That's up from 172 per 100,000 the previous week and above the national rate of 356 per 100,000.
The number of COVID-positive people in hospitals remains short of the peak it reached last summer. But they've risen to 1,152 as of Tuesday from fewer than 600 on Nov. 1, Edwards said.
In the last 11 days, hospitalizations have gone up by 350, said the governor, who once more began talking about "flattening the curve," the term applied often last spring to reducing the spike in COVID cases to avoid overwhelming the medical system.
"Because of the trajectory we've been on for the last 10 days or so, it's imperative we take action now," Edwards said.
He injected a note of hope in his press conference Tuesday, saying we know the mitigation measures work because they were successful in fighting COVID's spread in the spring and summer.
And he pointed to recent reports of success in developing vaccines against COVID-19.
"I believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel," Edwards said, "and I don't believe it's a high-speed train headed in our direction."

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