City’s CAO discusses guidelines on the eve of New Orleans allowing more businesses to reopen

New Orleans Reopening Plan
Man walks by empty business in French Quarter Street
Man walks by empty business in French Quarter Street (Source: Frankie Prijatel)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - In New Orleans, a city hit hard by the coronavirus, the phased reopening of businesses begins Saturday (May 16) at 6 AM.

City Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano said the decision to allow some non-essential businesses to reopen as the pandemic continues was weighed against public health concerns.

"When it comes to people’s lives we've always wanted to be, err on the side of ensuring that public health regulations are in place,” said Montano. "We're going to take a very conservative and thoughtful approach that has been driven by science and data."

Under the city’s rules for reopening, stores with exterior entrances are limited to 25 percent of their permitted occupancy. The city says stores within malls that do not have exterior entrances must remain closed.

Also, restaurants with table service must use reservations and indoor seating is limited to 25 percent of permitted occupancy and all tables are required to be six feet apart. Barber shops, beauty and nail salons are also required to operate at reduced capacity, use social distancing and require appointments for patrons. Churches are required to implement social distancing and they cannot have choirs participate during services under the city’s rules and are limited to 25 percent of their permitted occupancy or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

"The city is in the same shoe as many of these businesses as far as our livability but we have to just always pause and reflect that this is human life and death that we're dealing with,” said Montano.

Like the state requirements, only bars in New Orleans that serve food can reopen for now. They must follow the same restrictions as restaurants.

Some other businesses are told by the city to remain closed for now.

"We have, of course, large venues that would host concerts and events of the sort and massage parlors, tattoo parlors, anything with that close interaction. Gyms are able to open up, however, the group fitness portions of it, some of the other activities related to one-on-one contact are not going to be opened up,” Montano stated.

And the city is not ready to allow the state’s land-based casino to reopen yet.

"We've been thoughtful to not open up the casino, or allow the casino to be opened up at this period of time, once again this is one of the most dense cities in Louisiana and it certainly has to be thought of in a way that we have to be very cautious on what we're allowing and whom we're allowing,” said Montano.

Videopoker is not allowed either.

When asked if anything worries him about the reopening of the city’s economy, Montano replied, “I think we all, and the public and us as well lost sleep, I mean we're extremely anxious over tomorrow. It's one way to be excited and optimistic but anxiety is at its highest level too just to see what type of reaction and what type of resurgence if any would occur, as a result of this action."

Montano said average citizens will also be counted on to be very responsible during this time.

"No one's going to be arrested for not wearing a mask,” said Montano. “It's going to be up to those individuals to make that personal responsibility, to ensure to your neighbor that you are protecting yourself, your loved ones as well as others."

The mayor and Gov. John Bel Edwards have asked people out in the public to wear a mask or other face covering.

Montano said people who believe businesses are ignoring required safety protocols can contact the city.

"That is what we encourage people to call, 311, similar to what they did during pre-phase 1 when there were large gatherings or groups and we will ensure that the proper authorities are going and talking to these businesses and ensuring, coaching them, explaining the importance of it and really expressing this isn’t a punitive decision that we are trying to articulate, this is to prevent us having to shut down the city again,” said Montano.

Copyright 2020 WVUE. All rights reserved.