On Wednesday, April 15 Gov. John Bel Edwards held his daily press briefing on the state's response to COVID-19.
The briefing followed Edwards' appearance on a 2:00 pm call-in radio show where he answered questions from listeners.
Assistant Secretary for the Louisiana Office of Public Health, Dr. Alex Billioux joined the governor during the briefing. Acting Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux also joined Gov. Edwards for Wednesday's briefing to speak on the state's schools moving forward.
In terms of numbers, Gov. Edwards said he believes the state is "moving in a much better direction," but urged residents to continue heeding the stay at home order and other medical guidelines.
Gov. Edwards announced that on Wednesday he signed a proclamation closing K-12 schools for the duration of the academic year in respect to students. He emphasized that this is not the end of learning for the academic year, students simply will not report to campus for the remainder of the year. Gov. Edwards said distance learning will continue and school districts should also continue with nutrition programs.
Gov. Edwards said the decision to close schools was a difficult one, but necessary in order to help flatten the curve in the state. He also spoke directly to seniors anticipating to graduate this May, saying, "We're going to make sure you're properly celebrated," but adding it is unclear what that will look like at this point.
"To our students, I want to thank you for learning in such trying times, and I want to thank our teachers for committing to remote learning and keeping a connection with you. It is not lost on me that our parents are being asked to manage so much more than they ever expected they would have to, and I thank them for taking an even more active role in their children's education than normal," Gov. Edwards said. "And to our soon-to-be graduates: I do not have the words to tell you how proud I am of you for your accomplishments, especially under such hard and unconventional circumstances. We will properly celebrate you in time, when it is safe. We will all get through this together and we will come back stronger than we were before."
Acting State Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux said moving forward, the state is focusing on two things: seniors, and how they will be prepared to graduate and move forward, and also the remainder of the state's students and their learning levels. Scioneaux said the state Department of Education will work with individual school districts as they evaluate student learning levels in an effort to start the 2020-2021 school year off strong.
Scioneaux said decisions regarding distance learning and how student learning levels will be assessed. At this time, the state is not recommending a pass/fail system, but again, the decision to utilize a pass/fail system will be up to individual school districts.
More information will be released on Thursday, when the LDOE holds a call with school districts across the state. Resources and information can be found on the department's website.
Scioneaux added that distance learning can be implemented in a variety of ways, including high-tech options such as video conferencing, and low-tech options such as physical papers. He said the state will support local school districts in using a combination of both options, helping them evaluate needs in regard to technology.
In regards to summer school, Scioneaux said that would be another decision left up to local school districts, but the state would support districts in that decision. She also added there is no word as to whether or not the start date of the next academic year would be moved up to July or August.
The state is "working closely with school districts to assess where they are in their plans," said Scioneaux. The state has released guidance about continuous learning that gives a road map of questions to ask for districts to solve specific issues, but more information will be released to districts on Thursday.
Lower income populations will have fewer devices for high-tech distance learning, and said certain parts of the state will not be able to conduct distance learning as efficiently as possible, but he said residents should "make the very best of what is not an ideal situation." He added that is it not too soon to look at how school will look like next academic year, offering several possible contingencies schools may have to implement to continue social distancing practices, including no large assemblies and platooning of students.
BESE President Sandy Holloway released a statement Wednesday afternoon following the press conference regarding Gov. Edwards extending the closure of school campuses:
"With the announcement of statewide school facilities closure for the rest of this academic year, we call on school districts to ensure learning for all students and the continuation of food service. We must now move ahead with a sense of urgency and thoughtfulness in developing plans for the future that address and correct learning gaps resulting from COVID-19. As such, I have tapped BESE Members Ashley Ellis and Preston Castille to take the lead for the Board in liaising with the Louisiana Department of Education as they outline an academic plan for the future. BESE remains committed to prioritizing students, their learning, and engaging stakeholders as our state navigates these unchartered waters. There will be many opportunities and challenges ahead as we continue to work together during these uncertain times; in the meantime, schools and school systems need to be supported in their decisions in providing services to all populations of students, encouraging the use of materials and resources that are already in use."
In other information, Gov. Edwards said 31 youth in the Office of Juvenile Justice system have tested positive for COVID-19, but none require serious care or hospitalization.
Many residents have inquired about the number of recovered cases, and Gov. Edwards gave a small bit of information regarding that on Wednesday. He said that based on the number of positive cases and the time frame for those cases, he could give an estimated number of 7,044 residents who have recovered.
Edwards said there are many things the state is looking at in regards to moving forward and once the stay at home order is lifted. He mentioned a possible mandate for workers at restaurants, stores, and other essential businesses to wear masks. He added that moving forward, the state will likely have to take different actions in different locations. Conditions to consider would be the economy and the geographic area.
Gov. Edwards said he has not spoken with other state governments regarding synchronizing plans to reopen, such as is happening in the northeastern area of the country.
Finally, regarding the upcoming fall sports season, Gov. Edwards said he hopes to be in Tiger Stadium this fall, cheering for LSU to retain their National Championship title, but suggested that too might not look the same.
Ultimately, while Gov. Edwards said it looks as if the state is starting to flatten the curve, residents should "wrap their heads around the fact that this will be the new normal for awhile. The new, new normal won't be until we see a vaccine," which could be around a year, according to health experts.
Gov. Edwards will hold his next press conference at 11 a.m. on Thursday. It will be broadcast on LPB and we will also be streaming it on KATC, katc.com, and on the KATC Facebook page.
On Tuesday, April 14, the state was reporting 21,518 cases of coronavirus. The Louisiana Department of Health says that over 1,000 people have died from the disease.
LDH updates their numbers at noon each day.
For the latest numbers, click here.
You can watch the full press conference below.