Edwards loosens restrictions on high school football crowds

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana will allow more high school football fans to attend games in outside stadiums, if they're in parishes with low numbers of coronavirus cases in the last few weeks.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday that the stadiums will be allowed to have crowds at 50% capacity in parishes where 5% or fewer of the coronavirus tests have come back positive in the last two weeks. All stadiums have been capped at 25% capacity.

The change will take effect Friday. The Democratic governor said 26 of Louisiana's 64 parishes meet the criteria to boost crowd sizes in their high school football stadiums.

Edwards said the change comes in response to a conversation with House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, Republicans who are leading an ongoing special session seeking to give lawmakers more authority over the governor's coronavirus decision-making.

Among the strongest complaints from GOP lawmakers have involved restrictions on crowd sizes at high school football games.

Meanwhile, officials in New Orleans, warned that citations, business shutdowns and fines await people who fail to adhere to coronavirus restrictions. While New Orleans has not been as quick to ease restrictions as the state has been, the hospitality-dependent city has gradually loosened up. So far this month it has begun allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages to go, increased indoor restaurant capacity and allowed some outdoor seating at bars. And Mayor LaToya Cantrell said more restrictions are to be eased — the so-called Phase 3.3 of reopening — on Oct. 31.

But large crowds on Bourbon Street this past weekend brought public criticism from Cantrell. At a news conference outside the Superdome on Thursday, she said fines of up to $500 await those who violate public masking mandates. And Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said building owners and event organizers who violate current restrictions with parties or large gatherings face citations and possible shutdowns.

COVID-19 has been blamed for nearly 600 deaths in the city and nearly 5,600 statewide as of Thursday, according to state health department figures. More than 178,000 cases have been confirmed in the state, though the number is thought to be higher because many people don’t show major symptoms and don’t get tested.

Easing of restrictions statewide, and, more slowly, in New Orleans have resulted from positive trends including a low percentage of tests coming back positive. Hospitalizations have trended slowly upward in the last two weeks. But,at around 600, they remain well below the last peak of around 1,600 in July.

Parishes that meet the criteria announced Thursday for more outdoor seating at high school football stadiums are Assumption, Avoyelles, Catahoula, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Grant, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Madison, Orleans, Rapides, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Terrebonne, Vermilion, West Feliciana and Winn.

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