Some Lafayette Parish Businesses Re-Opening

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An estimated 60% of businesses in Lafayette parish, including furniture, clothing and jewelry stores, were being allowed to reopen Friday under strict social distancing guidelines designed to prevent spreading the new coronavirus.

Local leaders say the affected businesses fall into a “gray area” of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide emergency order that requires the shutdown of many businesses deemed nonessential.

City-Parish President Josh Guillory said at a Thursday news conference that the “safe shop” order covers businesses not among those explicitly deemed nonessential in Edwards’ order. Nonessential businesses include eat-in restaurants and personal care retailers like barber shops and beauty parlors.

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The retailers allowed to operate under the order would have to limit occupancy of their buildings to 25% of capacity. Employees are required to wear masks and the businesses will have to have the ability to make sure customers are symptom free and kept at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

Guillory and hospital officials at Thursday’s announcement said hospitals in the area are not surging and have been able to handle COVID-19 cases.

It was not immediately clear whether state health officials approve of the effort. Guillory said it was initiated after consultation with the state and with local health care leaders and legal authorities.

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“This guidance may be withdrawn if there is a spike in either hospital admissions or reported cases of COVID-19,” Guillory said. He added that residents were still advised to stay at home as much as possible, and said businesses opening that fail to meet guidelines for safely would face a possible cutoff of power, fines and even jail time.

Although the virus has spread to every parish in the state, New Orleans remains the chief hot spot. Lafayette reported 387 known cases and 16 deaths as of Thursday. New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish reported well over 10,000 cases and hundreds of deaths.

Also Friday, chambers of commerce and other business organizations from across Louisiana released a report on factors to be considered in safely reopening a state economy devastated by efforts to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

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The Baton Rouge Area Chamber released the report, touted as an “executive summary” meant to start a conversation on reopening businesses. Among other factors, the report emphasizes the need to ensure that hospitals are equipped as needed, that a plan is in place to deal with a new wave of infections should one happen.

It calls for a phased-in approach to reopening, with an early emphasis on restarting health care facilities providing nonurgent care, such as elective surgeries, clinic visits and preventative care that have been delayed during efforts to deal with COVID-19 patients.

Louisiana is a Southern hot spot for COVID-19 but, under an economically devastating stay-at-home order, has avoided a feared surge of patients that would overwhelm its hospitals.

By Thursday, the state had more than 22,000 known cases. and the number has consistently increased as testing has become more available. However, the number hospitalized fell slightly Thursday, to 1,914 from 1,943 the day before. It was over 2,000 last week. The number needing ventilators as of Thursday was 396, down from 425 on Wednesday and well below last week’s totals.

For most people, the coronavirus causes symptoms such as high fever and a dry cough that resolve in several weeks. But some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can suffer severe symptoms that can be fatal.

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