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Gov. Edwards: Public emergency declarations by committee ‘not a workable scenario’


BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards rejected the idea Tuesday of legislation reportedly being floated by Republican leadership that would not allow the governor to declare a public health emergency for more than 30 days without concurrence from the legislature.

“Because the constitution vests that authority in me, and if you have to get a majority of a committee to do it, that, quite frankly, is not a workable scenario,” Edwards said during a briefing Tuesday afternoon.

“Secondly, when you call a public health emergency – and I don’t know of any reasonably sane person who thinks we don’t actually have a public health emergency – once you call one and the nation has one in place, at that point and time, you start entering into contractual agreements with FEMA. FEMA contracts with the governor. It doesn’t contract with some council, it doesn’t contract with all the various parish presidents and mayors. So that construct just doesn’t work. It won’t work and I can assure you, I will not be surrendering my authority that’s given to me under the constitution to some council.”

It was the governor’s first media briefing since Louisiana lawmakers announced Monday that they will convene a special session next week to address the near-bankruptcy of the state unemployment trust fund, to work on Hurricane Laura recovery and to try to scale back the governor’s emergency powers in the latest battle over his coronavirus response.

During the briefing, Edwards also reviewed the guidelines under his recent Phase 3 proclamation dealing with restrictions on bars and the conditions under which they can reopen to on-premise consumption, emphasizing once again that the reopening plan is based on recommendations specifically for the state by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. And it has been the state’s adherence to those guidelines, Edwards said, that has helped slow the spread of the coronavirus and allowed the progress made so far in reopening.

The Louisiana Department of Health reported 730 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 11 more deaths Tuesday, bringing the cumulative number of cases statewide to 162,214 and total deaths to 5,218. But positivity rates are declining in some parishes, and as of Tuesday, there were 571 patients hospitalized in Louisiana for the coronavirus, with 96 on ventilators.

“If you go back to more than a month ago, I think it was August first, we had more than 1,000 hospitalzed, so we have made considerable progress over the last month or so, and in fact you’d have to go back to early June to have this few people in the hospital,” said Edwards. “And that’s a good thing, what that means is the mitigation measures are working,” but he added, “we also have to maintain what we’re doing. In fact, that’s what the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommendations for our state really impress upon us.”

Edwards also urged as many people as possible to get their flu shot, calling it one of the most important things people can do heading into flu season.

“I implore people, even if you normally don’t get the flu shot, make a plan, get a flu shot this year.”

Edwards said he plans to get one in a couple of weeks and he wants to make sure others do so as well.

“The good news is, all of the mitigation measures that we have in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 also slow the spread of the flu, so when you wear the mask, when you distance from each other, and when you wash your hands, when you stay home when you’re sick. All of these things slow the transmission of the flu. And that’s not just conjecture. When the COVID emergency first happened back in March, we were still in flu season. And overnight, when we put in these mitigation measures, the numbers of people that were going to the hospital with the flu decreased overnight, so it’s really important that we engage in these mitigation measures, get our flu shots, so that we don’t overwhelm the capacity off our hospitals to deliver life-saving care.”

The governor also touched on the Phase 3 proclamation dealing with restrictions on bars and the conditions under which they can reopen to on-premise consumption. He said the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control will continue to monitor parishes where the positivity rate has dropped below the five-percent threshold for being eligible to reopen bars.

On storm recovery efforts, the governor said 11,000 people are still being sheltered in 42 hotels across Louisiana because of Hurricane Laura damage, mostly in New Orleans. Additionally, Texas still has more than 4,000 Laura evacuees from Louisiana.

National Guard continues to man 12 points of distribution in the hardest-hit area of the state from that storm.

Tropical Storm Beta weakened to a depression over Texas Tuesday but is still bringing heavy rain to parts of the middle and upper coast.

TS Beta made landfall between Corpus Christi and Galveston, Texas Monday night with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph.

Beta is now a tropical depression as it slowly meanders through SE Texas. Two to four inches of rain are expected across the state from that storm, and Edwards said Grand Isle is flooding.

The storm is expected to continue to move inland over southeastern Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday, then over Louisiana and Mississippi on Wednesday night, Thursday and Friday.

View the full briefing below.

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