BATON ROUGE – Lousiana's numbers are not good, and most of the recent bad news can be traced back to Memorial Day, Gov. John Bel Edwards said during his Wednesday briefing.
"We've had three weeks now of going in the wrong direction," Edwards said. "The numbers don't reflect what might have happened this past weekend. I mention the Fourth of July because we know now that Memorial Day was a point in time when our numbers stopped getting better and started getting worse."
Edwards said he hopes and prays that July 4 doesn't cause a repeat.
"We have lost all the gains we made in June," he said.
It's not hard to reverse that, he added.
"We simply have to wear a mask, whether indoors or outdoors. Everything we have learned in this country and around the world about this virus and how it spreads, indicates that mask-wearing is critical to keeping the cases down," Edwards said.
When asked about school, Edwards said opening school is what everyone wants, but it must be balanced with the safety of children, teachers and staff. School definitely will not look like it did before COVID, not matter what, he said. Things will be different, even if schools are all open this fall, he said.
Children need school for education, but also for nutrition, socialization, for special needs services, and also because teachers are mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect, he said.
"For all these reasons, we want kids back on our campuses, but we need to do it safely," Edwards said.
No matter how you look at the numbers, they're not good. Louisiana is number 5 in the country for per-capita cases. Those are known cases, he says. But about one-third of people who get the virus won't have symptoms, and most of them never get tested. That means they are contagious and never know it, Edwards said.
"COVID 19 more rampant in Louisiana today than it has ever been. We need the people of Louisiana to step up, pay attention and do their part," Edwards said. "Everybody in Louisiana, you have a role to play. Please do your part."
Everyone should wear a mask any time they are around someone they don't live with, inside or outside, he said. Practice social distancing, but even if you can, you should wear a mask.
At this time, Edwards said he's not contemplating a state-wide mask mandate. The state's largest population centers already have issued mandates, he said. The White House guidance suggests that local governments should be deciding about those, and the decisions should be based on the numbers in that locality, he said.
Edwards said he's focused now on enforcing the current restrictions, but also said he won't allow the cases to overload Louisiana hospitals to a point that endangers the health of all potential patients, not just COVID patients.
Anyone who wants the economy to open up should be wearing a mask, he said. That's how numbers will be brought under control so that more businesses can open to full capacity, he said.
"We know the central part of this, probably the single most important thing people can do, is wear a mask," he said.
The state's positive rate for the new cases reported today was more than 10 percent, he said.
The number of people in hospitals - 1,022 today - is the highest since mid-May, and it's almost double what it was a month ago, he said.
About 35-40 percent of the new cases over the past week or so are people younger than 29, he said.
Before now, the numbers were driven by hot spots in New Orleans and areas near that, he said. The rest of the state wasn't showing high numbers and high growth rates, he said. Now, we are. Louisiana now looks like other states, including Texas, he said.
"We have a statewide epidemic," he said. "It's no longer one region driving our numbers."
State officials are aware of lags in test results, he said. The cause appears to be a shortage of reagent in commercial labs, he said.
That's a concern because infected people need to know, even if they're asymptomatic, so they don't infect others. Anyone who is exposed needs to self-quarantine for 14 days while they wait for test results, he said.
"If you have been in close contact with someone who is COVID positive, even if you test negative, you need to quarantine for 14 days," he said. "You may be positive, but not have the viral load to cause a positive result. So you still need to quarantine for 14 days."
Dr. Alex Billioux, Assistant Secretary of Health for the Louisiana Department of Health's Office of Public Health, agreed that testing immediately is not necessarily indicated, because you might not test positive right away. The most critical thing is to self-quarantine for 14 days, he said.
Baton Rouge was one of only three cities in the nation selected by the White House task force for a program to conduct increased tests. That should tell everybody what our situation is, Edwards said. He added that Louisiana didn't ask to be included - White House Task Force officials called him about being part of the program.
You don't have to live in Baton Rouge to get tested there. There are four sites: LSU, Southern University, Cortana Mall and Lamar-Dixon. If you want details, call 211. The testing will run through July 18. To preregister, click here.
If there is good news, it's that some of the recent hospitalized people are experiencing symptoms that are not as severe as they have been, he said. There are challenges in health care, including limited access to approved medications, staffing issues and beds, he said.
The staffing issues are getting worse because the community spread is getting more nurses and doctors sick, he said.
The average age of those hospitalized is down, he added. Also, the demographics of hospitalized citizens is starting to look more like the state's demographics, he said. Initially, African American people were disproportionately represented in the hospitalized and death demographics.
Dr. Billioux said the number of positives among young people is concerning, because that increases the risk for people who are more likely to have severe symptoms, especially if younger people don't social distance and mask up.
One of the new data sets the state is providing now is where "outbreaks" are happening. This week, they're reporting that the locations with the highest number of outbreaks are food processing plants, bars, industrial settings, universities and restaurants. Those sites had 82 outbreaks involving 1,085 cases, the data indicates.
As of July 8, the number of coronavirus cases reported in Louisiana increased by 1,888 and the number of deaths had increased by 20, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
To see the latest statewide and parish case numbers from LDH, click here.
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