Likely taking the wind out of the sails of those ready to hear a re-opening plan for the state of Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards instead extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 15 during his daily press briefing today (Monday, April 27).
“We spent a lot of hours looking at the data,” Edwards said, expressing his own disappointment in the news he was delivering. “We spoke to four epidemiologists across the state. We looked at the data using the White House guidelines for a phased reopening as our guidepost. We hoped we (would) be taking vigorous steps right now. The fact is we just don’t meet the criteria.”
The criteria for reopening the state’s economy set by the White House includes a decrease in cases, a decrease in people presenting with symptoms and a decrease in hospitalizations all over a 14-day period. Gov. Edwards says Louisiana is just not where it needs to be to begin Phase 1 of a reopening.
Progress has been made, but it not enough and it has not been evenly distributed across the state, said the Governor and Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Alexander Billioux. The drops across measures are largely attributed to Region 1, which includes and Jefferson parishes. Meanwhile other regions across the state are seeing the numbers in all categories increase or hold steady instead of decreasing.
“The people of Louisiana are strong. It’s through their strength that we have been able to make the progress we have made,” Edwards said. “We’re moving in the right direction. But we’re only going to get there by following the data and the science.”
Gov. Edwards says the plan must cover the entire state.
“The reason I chose not to do it that way is because we have enough population centers around the state where cases are increases that I don’t feel this is appropriate to do this by region or by parish.”
Pointing to the COVID-19 data reported for Monday, April 27, Dr. Billioux said that more than 17,300 residents presumed to have recovered from COVID-19 means there are still more roughly 10,000 actively infected Louisianans.
The state Department of Health is reporting 27,068 cases and just under 1,700 deaths. In New Orleans, cases have increased by 23 to 6,365 and the number of deaths remains at 406—the same amount reported the previous day.
“When you think about moving restrictions when you have 10,000 actively infected people, (it is risky),” Dr. Billioux said. “We do feel there is some improvement, significant improvement. It is unfortunately not evenly distributed. Overall the trajectory of the state has been positive, but it’s going to take a little while longer for us to be in that position.”
Edwards says while he understands that some residents and business owners across the state are disappointed by today’s announcement, it was the best decision for the state.
“I don’t believe there is anybody that wants to reopen the economy more than I do,” Edwards said. “At the same time, I am the only person charged by the constitution to make the decision and do the right thing. I am not going to pretend like we are better off than we are.”
Both Dr. Billoux and Gov. Edwards say the additional time will allow the state to increase its testing and contact tracing capacity, steps that will be important to getting COVID-19 cases under control.
Edwards says that assuming Louisiana continues to make progress toward the criteria, he anticipates starting phase 1 of the reopening on May 15 and should be ready to announce those details on May 11.
Meanwhile, the current stay-at-home order that limits travel to essential trips to grocery stores, banks, restaurants and other essential businesses remains in effect. Gov. Edwards reiterated other elements of the current order that remain in place, including a 10-person limit on gatherings at places of worship; malls remaining closed to the public, but stores can open for curbside pick-up; and restaurant drive-thru windows only, but outdoor dining can be open to customers who adhere to social distancing guidelines. Additionally, employers at business that interact with the public must require their employees to wear masks. Gov. Edwards also said non-essential retail businesses have been allowed open under the current order but can only allow 10 customers in at a time.
“In fact I am appealing to everyone who goes out in the public to wear a mask,” Edwards said, adding that when Louisiana does begin its phased reopening masks and social distancing will remain in effect. “And I encourage business owners to read the order closely and determine where they apply and to follow the guidelines.”
The Governor also said that when businesses are allowed to reopen, it will be at 25 percent of the normal occupancy, adding that churches and businesses should take the next few weeks to confirm their occupancy rates with local governments in preparation.