BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Two Louisiana federal judges have refused to immediately stop enforcement of Gov. John Bel Edwards' coronavirus order prohibiting bars from letting customers drink onsite.
In Lafayette, U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays on Friday denied the temporary restraining order requested by 11 Acadiana area bar owners who have filed a lawsuit challenging Edwards' decision to limit bars to takeout and delivery as a way to reduce spread of the coronavirus.
In New Orleans, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman rejected a similar restraining order sought by 22 southeast Louisiana bar owners who have filed the same lawsuit in their regional federal court.
“The court denies the plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order because the plaintiffs have not ‘clearly carried’ their burden of showing that the requirements for obtaining this ‘extraordinary and drastic’ remedy are met,” Feldman wrote in his Friday decision.
Feldman set an Aug. 14 hearing to consider further arguments in the New Orleans case, while Summerhays set an Aug. 17 hearing in the case in Lafayette.
The bar owners argue the Democratic governor's restrictions are unconstitutional, unlawfully targeting one business sector without enough evidence to back up Edwards' assertion that bars are driving the spread of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus more than any other businesses.
The bar owners are asking the federal judges to stop Edwards and Fire Marshal Butch Browning, the chief enforcement officer of the virus regulations for Edwards, from being allowed to enforce the closure of onsite drinking at bars.
Lawyer Jimmy Faircloth, a one-time executive counsel to former Gov. Bobby Jindal, is representing the bar owners in both cases. The businesses are located in New Iberia, Morgan City, Youngsville, Lafayette, Raceland, Sicily Island, Houma, Amelia, Luling, Marrero, Mamou, Kenner, Gretna, Terrytown, Slidell, Montegut and Duson.
Edwards banned onsite consumption at bars in July after previously allowing bars to reopen with restaurants and other businesses, and he’s said he expects to keep the order in place beyond its current Aug. 7 expiration date.
The governor and his health advisers said bars have shown to be specifically problematic because people tend to huddle closely together inside without masks while drinking and lapse in their virus precautions the more alcohol they consume. The White House’s coronavirus task force recommended that Louisiana close bars to reduce public health risks and to lessen the spread of the virus.
The bars argue Edwards cannot show a “real or substantial relation” between the closure of bars to onsite drinking and the public health crisis. They say only a small number of known COVID-19 cases have been traced to bars by the state, and they say none of those cases were tracked to their businesses.
The Louisiana Department of Health says it has traced 464 confirmed coronavirus infections to 41 bars, among the largest number of cases tracked to a specific type of business.
Louisiana has had more than 116,000 confirmed coronavirus cases since early March, according to the state health department, though the numbers of actual infections are thought to be far higher because many people can be asymptomatic and never get tested.
The number of Louisiana residents who have died from COVID-19 has reached 3,835. More than 74,000 people are presumed recovered from COVID-19 in the state.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.