BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — A key member of the White House’s COVID-19 task force is praising the state’s handling of the outbreak, while urging Louisianians to keep wearing masks and staying socially distanced.
Dr. Deborah Birx made her remarks on the LSU campus Wednesday, following a roundtable discussion with Gov. John Bel Edwards and interim LSU president Tom Galligan. Participants traded notes on Louisiana’s virus-mitigation measures.
“Louisiana made changes that saved people’s lives,” Birx said. “We’ve learned that masks work. We’ve learned that restrictions on indoor dining work. We’ve learned that closing bars at a time of high transmission works. Most importantly, we found that the engagement of the community works.”
Birx warned against easing mitigation efforts until the statewide positivity rate drops below 3 percent. Louisiana currently holds the highest per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases nationwide — with 162,645 known cases and 5,225 related deaths since March, as of Wednesday.
“I know people are getting tired of this,” she said. “But we need to get through this fall.”
State legislators have voiced less willingness in retaining the measures. The Republican-led House and Senate will start a 30-day self-called special session Monday aimed at rolling back executive measures imposed by Edwards, a Democrat.
“A significant number of House members have also asked to address the continued proclamations issued by the Governor during the pandemic and what many see as an imbalance of power,” House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) said Monday. “This special session will not end without a resolution to this problem.”
Edwards argued that Birx’s remarks at Wednesday’s roundtable underscore why he opposes the Legislature’s fight against his mandates.
“I just hope legislators are serious and responsible, that they are listening to what she is saying,” he said.
Birx did not comment on the upcoming legislative session, but she did suggest social distancing will be possible at Tiger Stadium on Saturday, when LSU opens its football season against Mississippi State. The stadium will host games this year at 25 percent capacity — with no tailgating allowed.
“Do not come on this campus not wearing a mask,” she said. “Do not be in bars. Don’t create your own bar situation in your hotel room or lobby in some unknown place because you will create viral spreading events that then people will not be able to separate from the game.”
“Let’s prove that we can do this safely and that we can continue to have spectators at games for the rest of the year,” Edwards said.
Galligan hinted the university will keep watch against aspiring tailgaters and those who fail to follow distance guidelines in or outside the stadium.
“We’re on high alert,” the interim LSU president said. “Our first tact will be persuasive and gentle. But if we have to go beyond persuasive and gentle, we’ll do so.”
A total of 829 LSU students, faculty and staff have reported testing positive for COVID-19, according to the university’s latest report. The number of weekly reported cases has fallen since peaking in late August.
“It depends on every student at LSU to continue that behavioral modification of wearing that mask, not just on campus, but off campus,” Birx said.
Wednesday marked Birx’s second trip to LSU as part of her role on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. She first visited the campus in July with Vice President Mike Pence.
Birx has spent the past few weeks stopping by college campuses, as semesters get underway. She stopped by the University of Tennessee, the University of South Carolina and Virginia Tech last week, then Texas A&M and Baylor University this past Tuesday.