BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards says he will extend current Phase 3 coronavirus orders and statewide mask mandate another 28 days, citing “areas of concern” that include increasing positivity rates and hospitalizations.
“We’re doing better than most of our neighbors and country right now,” Edwards said, but he warned that “any progress we’ve enjoyed is tenuous. If we want to enjoy most normalcy we can then we must engage in mitigation measures.”
During a briefing Thursday afternoon on the state’s response to COVID-19, as well as Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta, Edwards said he plans to sign an executive order extending the Phase 3 order later Thursday. It will remain in effect through December 4.
The current Phase 3 orders governing coronavirus restrictions extended by Edwards in early October are set to expire Friday, November 6, which he says have remained in effect in spite of a legal battle over a petition filed by state GOP lawmakers directing the governor to rescind them.
The Louisiana Department of Health reported 740 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday and 20 more deaths statewide, bringing the cumulative number of cases to 185,825 and total deaths to 5,766.
Louisiana is largely in a plateau, Edwards said, but with some concerning increases, especially around hospitalizations.
“That’s relatively good news, when you consider what’s happening elsewhere, across the northern hemisphere, but close to home and really here in the United States, but that plateau is at a relatively high level of cases. And so we never did get to a lower case load than we had in the trough of our recovery from the second surge. So we are at a relatively high level.”
“But we do areas of concern, particularly around increasing positivity and that’s the first sign that you’re on a road to increasing hospitalizations and deaths, and it’s increased in positivity, especially in certain regions of the state.”
Edwards said Louisiana currently has the 44th highest rate of COVID in the country, according to data from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which is an improvement from 35th last week. The state’s seven-day average for positivity is 5.26%
“While that’s good news that we’re 44th in the country, it is not because we have improved our standing. It’s because of the deterioration of other state’s standing and the increase in cases that they’ve had elsewhere.”
The governor also pointed out that there are only 12 parishes out of the 64 in the state that are not currently experiencing high levels of cases, defined by the CDC as 100 or more cases out of 100,000 in population over the last seven days. And, he says, the state has seen an increase in hospitalizations over the last 14 days and that measure is currently at the highest level since September 18.
While the state is doing relatively better than most if it’s neighbors and the country in general, Edwards warned that “any progress we’ve enjoyed is tenuous. If we want to enjoy most normalcy we can then we must engage in mitigation measures.”
Louisiana Department of Health interim Assistant Secretary of Public Health Dr. Joseph Kanter also spoke at the briefing to break down some of the details of the state’s coronavirus data. He said they have seen a lot of infections spreading at smaller gatherings lately, such as at gatherings following football games, dinner parties, and house parties.
“When people are in settings they feel comfortable with, they tend to let their guard down and not recognize their risk is just as much in that setting,” Kanter said, warning that people should maintain vigilance even when they are in a comfortable setting.
As for hurricane response, Edwards said there are still more than 1,000 Louisiana National Guard men and women activated in response to the storms and work is being done to repair and strengthen the storm protection system in Grand Isle.
The state is still sheltering more than 3,000 evacuees from all three hurricanes, mostly in hotels in the New Orleans area. The governor also announced that the mega-shelter in Alexandria will be closed on Friday and that the state is continuing to work on helping evacuees who cannot return home yet to shift to long-term housing options.
The governor said a Unified Command Group meeting was held Thursday morning on Tropical Storm Eta, which could be in the northern Gulf by sometime in the middle of next week. The governor and emergency response officials are continuing to monitor the storm.