COVID-19 cases are rising, what that means for small businesses?

With COVID-19 case counts rising again in Louisiana on the eve of Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday shopping season, Gov. John Bel Edwards finds himself walking a fine line between balancing the state’s economic and public health needs.

It’s a tightrope the Democratic Edwards has been walking all year with considerable success, despite unsuccessful efforts from the largely Republican Legislature to scale back his authority, say local business leaders.

They point out that the state’s economy has been in phase two since June and almost fully open in phase three since early September and that COVID case counts have remained manageable until the recent spike, which many attribute to Halloween gatherings.

“In general, the administration has done a smart job protecting the economy and protecting public health,” Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp says. “Our data shows we’ve been able to successfully keep our economy open.”

But as bar and restaurant owners, who have been particularly battered by public health restrictions, watch what’s happening in other states, they’re getting increasingly nervous that they’ll be forced to scale back service or shut down altogether.

So far, the governor has given no indication he is planning any shutdown and, in fact, has said he does not want to revert to more restrictive phases but that the data will dictate his decisions.

At a meeting Wednesday with the state’s business roundtable, the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, Edwards discussed the challenges the pandemic has posed to the economy and said the business community can help guide the trajectory by enforcing safety measures that are proving effective, like the statewide mask mandate.

“The governor is letting the data dictate his decision but he is uber cognizant of what is going on with the infection rates and he was very pointed in his comments,” says attorney and lobbyist Tom Clark, a C100 member. “He talked about how we know how to deal with this but we’re headed in the wrong way right now.”

Knapp says BRAC, which produced a comprehensive series of “safe at work” guidelines earlier this year, is also urging local businesses to help determine their own destiny by requiring customers and employees alike to adhere to safety measures.

“Businesses—especially those that are consumer facing— should do everything they can to make sure they keep tight reins on safety because the alternative is untenable,” he says. “We have to take matters into our own hands to ensure we don’t have to go backwards.”

Edwards is scheduled to discuss the state’s latest COVID-19 case count during a 2:30 p.m. briefing today at the Capitol.