(The Center Square) – Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to issue an executive order keeping Louisiana in Phase 3 of the White House-approved guidelines meant to limit the spread of COVID-19, Edwards said Thursday.
The 28-day extension comes while Edwards and the speaker of the state House of Representatives are in a legal fight over the governor’s authority to keep anti-coronavirus mandates in place.
“When this ends, I don’t know,” Edwards said. “But we are not there.”
Under Phase 3, business capacity and crowd sizes are limited, barrooms are closed for on-premise service in parishes with high rates of COVID-19, and residents are required to wear masks over their mouth and nose when near people who are not part of their household.
Louisiana recently has fallen from 35th to 44th in the nation for new case growth, but that’s because other states have seen spikes, not because Louisiana’s numbers have improved, officials said.
The federal government recommends that states use four factors when deciding if they should tighten or loosen restrictions: the number of people in emergency rooms with COVID-19-like symptoms, the number of new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized, and the percentage of tests coming back positive. Though there has been an uptick in hospitalizations over the past three days, Louisiana mostly has been “plateauing” on all four factors over the past two weeks, Dr. Joseph Kanter with the state Office of Public Health said.
“All of the success that we have is highly tenuous,” he said.
Though there was broad bipartisan support for the restrictions in the early days of the pandemic when Louisiana was among the world leaders in the growth of confirmed COVID-19 cases, many Republicans now say the mandates are doing more harm than good, citing the economic and social costs.
Some lawmakers have questioned the governor’s authority to keep the emergency rules in place indefinitely and have complained about their lack of input into those decisions. Edwards vetoed a bill passed during the recently concluded special session that would have allowed the Legislature to amend the governor’s emergency orders.
Most House Republicans have signed a petition to suspend the governor’s emergency order for seven days, citing a statute that allows either chamber of the Legislature to end a state of emergency by a majority vote. Edwards has refused to comply, arguing the statute is unconstitutional and asking 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant to nullify the petition.
Attorney General Jeff Landry, on behalf of House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, asked Morvant to issue a temporary restraining order preventing Edwards from issuing new rules until he complies with the petition. Morvant declined to do so, and a hearing is set for next week.