Following almost six weeks of improvements in Louisiana’s COVID-19 case counts and a sustained decrease in COVID-related hospitalizations, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that the state would move forward to Phase 3.

This will bring most COVID restrictions back to where they were last September.

Louisiana’s statewide mask mandate, which has been in place since last July, will remain in place.

Edwards’ new order will last for 28 days and will expire March 31.

Overall, Louisiana’s percent positivity for COVID-19 tests is 5 percent, one third of the positivity rate six weeks ago. The state has completed more than 6 million COVID tests and administered more than 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Since we stepped back into more increased restrictions more than three months ago, the goal has been to slow the spread and avoid overwhelming our hospitals, which we have done thanks to the hard work of many Louisianans,” Edwards said. “These Phase 3 restrictions will keep some common sense and lifesaving limitations in place while we work to continue keeping the case counts down and administering the vaccines to as many Louisianans as quickly as we can.

“As we are cautiously reducing some of the restrictions related to slowing the spread of COVID, it is even more critical that people take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and those around them. This includes wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, washing their hands frequently, staying home when they are sick or have been exposed and getting the vaccine when it is their turn.”

The majority of businesses, including restaurants and salons, will be able to move to 75 percent of their capacity and indoor gatherings and event centers will be capped at 50 percent of their capacity but limited to 250 people.

“Today’s announcement is an encouraging light at the end of a long tunnel, but our state still has tremendous economic challenges to address,” said Louisiana Association of Business and Industry president and chief executive officer Stephen Waguespack. “The business community remains committed to doing everything we can to get small businesses back on their feet, get our citizens back to work and rebuild our shattered economy. We look forward to legislative opportunities in the upcoming session to do just that.”

Religious services will no longer have capacity limits, social distancing is strongly encouraged and masking will still be required.

Gyms and fitness centers will remain at 50 percent of their capacity, based on recent research from the CDC that raises concern about the spread of COVID-19 in these settings.

Bars in all parishes will be able to open for indoor service at 25 percent capacity, not to exceed 250 people, but those in parishes where the percent positivity is 5 percent or lower for two consecutive weeks may have indoor service at 50 percent capacity, not to exceed 250 people.

Alcohol sales still must end at 11 p.m. and no one younger than 21 years old can enter a bar. Patrons must be masked at all times except when consuming food or drink, and they must be served at socially distanced tables.

Live music will be allowed indoors under additional guidance provided by the State Fire Marshal. Indoor gatherings may operate at 50 percent capacity with a cap of 250 people.

Outdoor events may operate at 50 percent of their capacity, with no cap on attendance, but six feet of social distancing must be practiced.

Conventions, conferences, indoor sporting events and fairs and festivals may operate at up to 50 percent capacity with six feet of social distancing required, if they receive approval from the State Fire Marshal and the Louisiana Department of Health.

Strict masking continues to be required for all gatherings and events.

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