Edwards under pressure as political leaders push for phase three reopening

Gov. John Bel Edwards is under increasing pressure from conservative political leaders and business owners to allow at least some regions of the state to move to phase three of a staged reopening when phase two expires later this week.

The Louisiana Republican Party today joined the Jefferson, St. Bernard and St. Tammany Parish councils in calling on the governor to drop his statewide approach to controlling the spread of the pandemic—which, with the statewide mask mandate, is proving effective, experts say—and, instead, allow local governments to make their own determination of when to reopen.

“Every parish is experiencing this pandemic in different ways. So a “one-size-fits-all” strategy is both impractical and actively harmful for our state,” says LAGOP Chairman Louis Gurvich. “We must trust our local leaders with the flexibility to do what is best for their parishes’ citizens and businesses.”

Edwards has previously resisted such calls. He is expected to announce his plans for phase three tomorrow.

While no one is sure what Edwards will do, local business owners, who are hoping they’ll be able to up their capacity to 75% from 50%, say they feel for the governor.

“I feel for all the leaders,” says Stephen Hightower, who owns City Pork Hospitality Group. “Six months into this and still nobody knows what the right answer is.”

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber isn’t taking a position. BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp says he understands the delicate balancing act the governor is trying to do as he manages public health concerns with the plight of struggling business owners.

“Our position has been reopen as much as you can and keep in place good strong safety protocols,” Knapp says.

BRAC has continued to encourage businesses to practice social distancing and to enforce mask wearing. If the state moves, in whole or in part, to phase three this weekend, bars could reopen at 25% capacity. The only way it will work, however, is if bar owners strictly enforce the regulations—something that did not happen earlier this summer, when bars were briefly allowed to reopen before a spike in COVID cases forced them to close again.

“The way the state has handled it so far, is that as long as you are operating in good faith, they’re not going to come in with enforcement,” Knapp says. “But when folks are out of control, they’re putting the rest of the bars and restaurants at risk, so that’s the piece of this that I think has to be addressed.”

The Louisiana Restaurant Association is also pushing to move to phase three. Earlier today, LRA President Stan Harris addressed the Baton Rouge Rotary in a virtual speech, saying his members are eager to move to 75% dine-in capacity.