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Gov. Edwards: Do not expect ‘major changes’ every two weeks in emergency orders

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards said he expects to sign another emergency order at the end of next week when the current order expires and warned that citizens “should not expect any major changes every two weeks,” even if the data shows the spread of the coronavirus is beginning to slow in Louisiana.

After what he called a “deep dive” into the data Thursday, Edwards said there are some positive signs, including an overall drop in the number of hospitalizations and patients on mechanical ventilators. They are on the rise in the Monroe and Alexandria areas, however, and Edwards said the situation remains very serious.

“In every region of the state, our present positivity rate is over 10 percent, and that concerns us greatly,” said Edwards. In addition to that, Edwards said the state’s overall rate of infection remains at an R0 of greater than 1, which means that for every person infected, more than one additional person is infected. The state remains at the top of the list with the most cases per capita.

The governor said the state’s positivity rate as of July 24 was 14.34 percent. That is well above the benchmark set by the White House Coronavirus Task Force for indicating progress in slowing the spread enough to further reopen the economy.

On expectations for the next emergency order

Edwards said he expects to sign another proclamation on Thursday after meeting early next week with the Louisiana Department of Health to look at the most current data and discuss how the state should move forward, but he did make clear that he expects the statewide mask mandate will be extended. 

“I do think the people of Louisiana ought to not expect that we’re going to be making major changes every two weeks. It seems like we’ve sort of settled sort of where we are,” said Edwards. And so I don’t want people leaning forward and thinking there’s going to be some major change that doesn’t appear likely based on the current data. And sometimes I think people are even thinking that if the numbers improve a little bit, we’re gonna move away from the most recent mitigation measures like the mask mandate. I don’t anticipate doing that. The mask mandate, that’s just part of the new normal…and I just think people need to be prepared to continue with that and by the way, it remains a very small price to pay to protect our neighbors, our loved ones and for them, in turn, to protect your health, as well.” 

The Louisiana Department of Health reported another 1,769 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 42 more deaths Thursday, bringing the cumulative number of cases statewide to 114,481 and total deaths to 3,811.

Edwards said the 69 deaths reported by the state on Wednesday was a “gut punch,” marking the largest number of deaths reported in a 24-hour period in a few months. Noting that deaths are a lagging indicator, he said the hope is that the number of cases is beginning to plateau.

Edwards said the state estimates that there are currently about 38,000 known active COVID-19 cases in Louisiana right now.

“And by ‘known case,’ we mean one that derives from a positive result on the test,” said Edwards. “That does not count the 25 to 40 percent of the people with COVID who are gonna be asymptomatic because we know that very few of those individuals actually get tested and get that result. But nevertheless, they are infected, they’re infectious, they’re shedding virus and they can spread it. And that’s really what makes this particular pandemic so hard to try to manage.”

On lawsuits filed over mask order, bar closures

The governor said those who have voiced opposition to and filed suit over the mask order and closure of bars to on-premise consumption seem to be overlooking the fact that the measures are recommended by the White House Coronavirus Task Force under guidelines for Opening Up America Again.

On shoring up the Louisiana Unemployment Trust Fund

Edwards explained Thursday that he is sent a letter to the state’s Congressional delegation as part of a larger effort to encourage lawmakers to include funding in the next coronavirus relief bill to help states shore up their unemployment trust funds. Louisiana’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund had $1.1 billion in March before the pandemic and is down to a little more than $300 million after paying out benefits to tens of thousands who have been out of work in the state, according to Edwards. And he says taking more out of employers’ payrolls is not an ideal option when the state is trying to ensure an economic recovery.

On privacy concerns about COVID-19 patient info shared with parish OEP officials

State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry, M.D. also spoke at the briefing and fielded a question about local emergency management officials being asked to destroy and not to share information about individual local cases.

The state provides the information so that local first responders know to protect themselves if they come into contact with with someone who might be contagious.

“The problem that we’ve had is when we did share and we’d tell people this is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) information, you’re not to share with everyone, they have not always followed guidance,” Guidry said. “They have shared and they’ve put information out, and that changes the way people react to you at your home, in your community. That’s not was intended. It was intended so that first responders would know how to take protection. From the very beginning, we have said and we continue to say, ‘If you don’t know if someone has COVID, wear your mask, keep your distance, treat everyone like they have COVID. Don’t start picking on those who make a list. The list changes every day. And that list isn’t current always, because it might have been they tested two weeks ago and they just made the list because the test results just came back and they’re no longer infectious. So it’s misinterpreted, it’s shared inappropriately, and so it’s dangerous when you start sharing information and it’s not used for the purpose intended. But we have to protect individual health information.”

He also addressed questions about claims by some local emergency preparedness officials that the numbers are inflated because the data they are getting is not matching up with the information being released to the public by the state. Guidry said that is because there are multiple data sets coming from multiple sources and that the state is constantly working through both automated and manual means to clear out duplicated results. He said he stands by the state’s data. See his full response, along with Gov. Edwards’ comments on this issue in the video below:

On potential impact of SEC decision to limit, shorten fall schedule

The governor was asked about how the SEC’s decision to play a conference-only, 10-game schedule this fall and what the prospects are for tailgating under the “new normal” of the coronavirus pandemic.

Edwards said fewer home games would impact the economy but wasn’t going to speculate on how tailgating might be affected for any home games that would be played.

Other highlights from Thursday’s briefing

  • Education grant: Louisiana is one of 11 states awarded $17 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education that Edwards says will help the state better serve students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state will receive $16,999,992 in funding for the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant from the U.S. Department of Education as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The money will provide over 75,000 students access to microgrants for remote learning resources, including at least 12,000 who will receive devices or hotspots through the program.
  • SNAP benefits: Emergency SNAP benefits have been approved, and Edwards said the state expects to see a surge in SNAP applications as federal unemployment insurance expires – at least until Congress agrees on a new deal. For more information about SNAP, including step-by-step instructions for how to apply for benefits, visit http://dcfs.la.gov/getSNAP or text GETSNAP to 898-211.
  • Census 2020: Edwards urged citizens to “please fill out the census,” noting that Louisiana is 45th out of 52 states and territories in completion of the population survey. Go to 2020census.gov for more information and to complete the brief questionnaire online.
  • On the SEC decision to play a conference-only

LSU Health Chancellor on cases, community spread in NWLA

LSU Health Shreveport Chancellor Dr. Ghali Ghali was a guest at Thursday’s briefing. The governor has been bringing in health care leaders from different regions of the state to talk about what they are seeing locally.

Ghali said that Region 7 has seen a steep increase in the number of cases over the past 30 days. Hospitalizations appear to have begun “a bit of plateau” in the last few days, but there is not enough data yet to determine whether there really is a plateau or a downward trend.

He also talked about the staffing shortage, especially nurses, and called the 12 to 15-percent positivity rate in the region “unacceptable.”

Ghali also addressed the reasons he believes the death rate may be lower in this latest surge in cases than they were when the virus first spiked in Louisiana. Read more here.

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