(The Center Square) – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Sunday issued a “stay-at-home” order closing most businesses that are still open to the public and telling most workers to stay home starting at 5 p.m. Monday.

In hopes of reducing the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Edwards previously limited crowd sizes and ordered all K-12 public schools, casinos, bars movie theaters, gyms and fitness centers closed and restricted restaurants to takeout, drive-through and delivery orders only. Those rules remain in place.

The new order closes to the public state government offices, malls, entertainment businesses, and personal care and grooming companies. Businesses closed to the public can conduct necessary activities such as payroll, cleaning services, maintenance or upkeep as necessary.

Businesses providing essential services (as defined by federal guidelines) that will remain open include health care providers, pharmacies, grocery stores, utilities, transportation and logistics companies, banks, media outlets, auto repair shops and “critical” manufacturing.

The order expires on April 12 but may be extended. Edwards has not set a statewide curfew but he has given local authorities the authority to set a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

State residents still will be allowed to go to grocery stores and pharmacies to pick up food, medicine and necessary supplies, go to their essential jobs and go outside for exercise and fresh air. When leaving their homes, people should practice social distancing, the governor’s office says.

“We’re not going to be doing checkpoints,” Edwards said. “If the people of Louisiana demand that we enforce it before we honor it, we’re in deep trouble. We are in deep trouble. So I’m asking people to be good citizens like you have never been before.”

The main goal of the mitigation efforts is to “flatten the curve” and reduce the number of people who are sick at one time so that health care services are not overburdened. Edwards says health care providers in Louisiana could be overwhelmed within the next week or so based on current projections.

“We have the fastest growth rate of confirmed cases in the world,” Edwards said.

Edwards said state officials expect to add more than 200 intensive care beds within two weeks. As states compete with each other over the limited supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers, Edwards is calling for federal officials to step in and come up with a better system for distributing PPE.

Driven largely by the New Orleans area, Louisiana has the third-highest rate of confirmed cases per capita behind New York and Washington, though no one knows how many cases there are because of limited testing. Because testing in the United States “was inadequate to the task,” Americans are being asked to self-isolate “as a proxy for testing,” Edwards said.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a similar "stay-at-home" mandate for her city Friday.

On Sunday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 837 cases of COVID-19 in 36 parishes and 20 deaths.

You can read Edwards' newest proclamation here.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.