New Orleans will enter Phase 3 of reopening on Saturday, Oct. 3, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Thursday at a press conference.
“With all of these phases the city of New Orleans has taken a slightly different approach than the state of Louisiana and we will continue on that path,” Cantrell said.
The new guidelines will be adopted in three mini-stages, with additional rollbacks considered every two to three weeks based on the city’s health data. The city is taking a more gradual approach than the state, which entered its version of Phase 3 on Sept. 11.
Cantrell said that by dividing Phase 3 into three parts, the city will provide businesses and residents with “more of a roadmap or milestones.”
In Phase 3.1, which starts at 6 a.m. Saturday, restaurants will be allowed to operate at 75 percent indoor capacity and 100 percent outdoor capacity. Social distancing and face coverings are still required.
Bars are allowed to reopen, but only to sell to-go alcohol. Retail stores and salons can increase their operating capacity to 75 percent. Limits on indoor gatherings will be loosened to allow up to 50 people and outdoor gatherings will be allowed up to 100 people, Cantrell said.
“If we continue to make progress, we’ll move right on to 3.2. We’ll move right on to 3.3,” Cantrell said.
The city continues to have strong health data that suggests community transmission of the virus is under control. There have been fewer than 50 new COVID-19 cases per day for the last two weeks and positivity rates have been less than 3 percent for the last 21 days, Cantrell said.
“In the past week, we have seen no COVID-related deaths in our community, which is a big, big demonstration of progress here,” Cantrell said.
Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the city’s health department director, said while she supports the easing of restrictions into Phase 3, “We can’t forget the 12,672 New Orleanians that contracted the virus that we know of and the 587 who have died. Our entire community has been impacted in a very profound way.”
The city’s top priority has been getting students back in the classroom, a slow process that kicked off late last month. Since PreK through fourth graders resumed in-person learning, there has been one case of COVID-19 in a staff member at a school that has not yet reopened for students. The district plans to return fifth through twelfth-graders to the classroom part-time as early as Oct. 12.
Cantrell said the rollbacks are focused on “equitably” reopening the city and allowing residents to return to work. New Orleans’ businesses have lost an estimated 2.67 billion dollars in revenue since the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the city in March.
But even as the city loosens some restrictions, Cantrell said they’re cracking down on policy enforcement. New Orleans’ mask mandate is still in place and bars aren’t allowed to serve patrons in-house.
“We’ve shut down six with proper notice being posted on those businesses,” Cantrell said. “We are actively enforcing at high levels.”
There are some new restrictions as well. While bars are now allowed to serve to-go drinks between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m., stores in the French Quarter entertainment district must follow the same standards when it comes to packaged alcohol.
“After restaurant alcohol sales end at 11 p.m., crowds, uncontrolled crowds, continue drinking packaged liquor on Bourbon Street into the overnight hours,” Avegno said. “For this reason ... we will be limiting the sales of packaged liquor in the entertainment district to be consistent.”
This rule will apply to all businesses located between the Mississippi River and Rampart Street and Esplanade Avenue to Common Street.
Addressing the concerns of the city’s children, Cantrell announced that Halloween celebrations, including trick-or-treating, will be allowed later this month. In recent weeks, several cities have released guidance formally discouraging traditional festivities.
“We’re not cancelling Halloween and it will move forward slightly differently,” Cantrell said. She encouraged families to start trick-or-treating earlier in the day to reduce congestion and allow for social distancing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating. Instead, they suggest setting individually wrapped gift bags at the end of a driveway or yard for kids to pick up. Families can also participate in small, socially distanced, outdoor costume parades.