BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards called on Louisiana residents in a statewide TV address Monday to comply with his “stay at home” order, as the number of state residents confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus spiked to nearly 1,200 people, and the virus’s death toll in the state grew dramatically overnight.
At least 34 residents have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, according to Louisiana’s health department, up from 20 confirmed deaths a day earlier.
Edwards ordered his state’s 4.6 million residents to voluntarily stay at home unless they need to carry out essential tasks such as getting food or medicine. First responders and workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors’ offices and other critical operations are exempt from the directive, which will remain in effect until at least April 12.
The Democratic governor held a prime-time broadcast Monday night to talk about Louisiana’s response to the coronavirus. The state has the third-highest per-capita rate of confirmed infection, Edwards said. He’s warned the outbreak is spreading so rapidly that Louisiana is on a trajectory similar to Italy’s, with health care facilities at risk of being overwhelmed within the next week.
“Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to,” Edwards said. “We need to make this adjustment now so we can get to the other side of this. The virus is here, and everybody needs to act as if they already have it.”
The virus has spread to at least 41 of the state’s 64 parishes, according to health department figures. The state’s epicenter remains in New Orleans.
But Edwards cautioned that testing doesn’t show the full picture: “We shouldn’t delude ourselves. It’s in every single parish.”
Louisiana joins New York and Georgia in leading the nation in the number of nursing homes with coronavirus cases, a federal report shows. At least seven homes in each of the three states have confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases, according to a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Current or suspected cases of COVID-19 have been found in at least four nursing homes in each of three other states: Washington, Illinois and New Jersey.
This coronavirus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in higher numbers among the elderly and people with underlying health problems.
Nine of the Louisiana residents who have died from COVID-19 lived at Lambeth House, a New Orleans retirement home and nursing facility, state officials said. Forty-two people from Lambeth House have tested positive for the coronavirus. A second cluster of cases has been identified at a Donaldsonville retirement and nursing home, with five infections identified Monday, the health department said.
“We continue to be in daily contact with Lambeth House and in daily contact with any other facility that has people with symptoms,” said Dr. Alexander Billioux, Louisiana assistant secretary of health.
Even as Edwards and public health officials called on people to stay home, one pastor refused to comply with a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. A Baton Rouge area church held services for more than 1,800 people Sunday, many of them brought in on buses, according to WVLA-TV. Edwards called that disappointing.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell ordered basketball hoops removed from city facilities Sunday because people were still playing games.
“I don’t know how you can guard a man with social distancing — it doesn’t work,” she said.
Amid the disruption caused by the epidemic, Louisiana’s state revenue department announced Monday the deadline for filing state income taxes has been pushed back to July 15.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Catholic Church in New Orleans, Archbishop Gregory Aymond, announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, saying in a statement that he had “very mild symptoms” and had self-quarantined.
Complicating New Orleans’ fight of the disease spread, rats and mice are abandoning their hiding places in walls and rafters of shuttered businesses and venturing outside. On Bourbon Street workers in protective clothing placed poisonous bait in storm drains and set out traps.
“Unfortunately, what’s happening is, many of these rodents are looking for an alternative food source,” Claudia Riegel, the city’s pest control director, said Monday.
Associated Press reporters Kevin McGill and Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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