Lafayette reopens some ‘nonessential’ businesses conditionally, before the state’s lockdown ends

Photo by Christiaan Mader

The gist: Mayor-President Josh Guillory rolled out a policy to re-open businesses he says fall in the “gray area” of the governor’s stay-home order that shut down commerce in the state on March 23 — i.e. businesses that are neither “essential” nor prohibited. Questions about who can stay open have persisted since the governor shut the state down amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This order is legal; it’s within the guidance of the governor,” Guillory said, after explaining enforcement measures and punishment for violators.

Calling it his “safe shop policy,” Guillory said the change is needed to address the deluge of unemployment claims filed in recent weeks. Almost 19,000 initial claims are in the pipeline for Lafayette Parish, with more than 4,000 during the week of April 5-11 alone. “This many unemployment claims in this short of a period is by far unprecedented,” he said. 

Louisiana’s stay-home order is set to expire April 30, but the governor has yet to announce an extension. New Orleans, meanwhile, will keep its lockdown going until at least May 16.

Some public health officials have warned against thawing restrictions until widespread testing is available. Testing supplies are growing in Lafayette Parish and nationally, but not to the extent that local testing criteria have been substantially relaxed. High-risk cases still get priority, the mayor-president said at a Wednesday press conference, reinforcing in his remarks the need to keep Lafayette’s 311 pre-screening line open even after the Cajundome screening site was shut down this week. 

“The hospitals here have the ability to absorb [the risk],” said Dr. Doug Clement, an emergency care physician and LCG’s medical director, when asked today whether it is wise to pull back restrictions ahead of more widely available testing. Dr. Tina Stefanski, the state public health director for the Acadiana region, did not attend the press conference. 

The new policy applies to around 60 percent of businesses in Lafayette Parish, including retailers like furniture and jewelry stores, and those selling durable goods, officials said. To reopen under the order, which goes into effect at midnight Thursday, all employees must wear face masks and be symptom-free, and customers must maintain six feet of space when shopping and waiting in checkout lines. There is a maximum of 25 percent occupancy, as defined by fire and building codes, and no group congregating will be allowed. Beginning Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., business owners needing clarification on the safe shop policy can call 311 and choose option 2 to speak with someone from the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

Violators risk having their power shut off, the mayor said, and face fines of $500 per violation and/or up to six months in the parish jail. Spotting noncompliance will rely largely on reports from private citizens. 

Additional reporting by Christiaan Mader