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Edwards: Numbers force postponement of Phase III

Gov. Edwards
Posted at 12:48 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-22 17:03:52-04

The recent increases in COVID cases and hospitalizations have forced a postponement of Phase III in Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said today in a press conference.

"It goes without saying this is not the direction we want to go in," he said. "A lot of people out there are saying they are done with this virus. Well, the virus isn't done with us."

Louisiana will remain in Phase II, he said. That will remain in place for 28 days while state officials continue to examine the data, he said. Edwards said he will come back in 14 days with an update on the numbers; the President's task force has recommended that two weeks of data review prior to any change in phase.

Edwards had hoped to move the state to the next phase of opening later this week. But the numbers aren't there, he said. Even though there has been an increase in testing, the case growth can't be explained with the higher number of tests, he said.

Edwards said he still believes school will open on time, but "it won't look like it did." Things will have to be done differently to protect students, faculty and staff, he said.

"We have a lot of things to work through, but none of this is unique to Louisiana," he said.

The governor said he does not believe moving back to Phase I is advised, but he added that communication will be increased. More spot checks to businesses are planned, to be sure that employees are wearing masks as ordered, he said.

With the state opening up and increased testing, a higher number of cases is expected. But the high numbers Louisiana is seeing can't be explained by that, Edwards said.

"It's clear to me, if we were doing a better job as a state of adhering to those mitigation measures, we would not see the increases we're seeing," he said.

There are community spread cases related to bars and graduation parties, he said. The cases among younger people are increasing, he says, a trend that is being echoed across the country.

Many young people think they're not in danger, but that's not true, he said. In Louisiana, 13 people younger than 29 have died from the virus, he said. And, even if you are asymptomatic, you can still spread the virus to others - and to people who are more at risk.

"I would ask everybody to wear your mask. Keep socially distant from people who are not part of your immediate household, wash your hands and stay home when you are sick," Edwards said. "We need to pay particular attention to those at risk. We all need to do a better job."

Today the state's number of cases breached 50,000 and the number of deaths increased over 3,000. The vast majority of new cases are due to community spread, the governor said.

The cases puts Louisiana in the top 15 states in the country, he said. Louisiana also is among only 23 states where cases are increasing. Most of the south is included in that group, he said.

"That should put an end to the theory that summer, with its heat and humidity, will cause this virus to disappear," he said.

Dr. Alex Billioux, Assistant Secretary of Health for the Louisiana Department of Health's Office of Public Health, gave his usual presentation of data.

He said his department's "strong recommendation" to the governor was to stay in Phase II, because the rate of transmission currently is too high to make Phase III safe, he said.

Billioux showed two slides that show increasing cases and hospitalizations in almost every region of the station, including Acadiana.

"Most concerning of all of this is the rise in hospitalizations, that's what is going to put us in a tough spot," he said. "That's the way to keep the deaths down from COVID."

If hospitals are overwhelmed, there won't be room for patients who need to be hospitalized to survive, he said.

Billioux said young people should think, not just about their own risk, but about spreading the virus, especially to older people they love.

He addressed a question about herd immunity. He said having antibodies may provide you some immunity, but that's not certain yet. For sure, experts don't know yet if someone with the antibodies can be re-infected. At least 60 percent of the population needs to have the antibodies before you reach a level of "herd immunity" that is safe, he said. People can develop antibodies either from being infected or via a vaccine, he said.

When asked, Edwards said health officials have never recommended that Louisiana ban travelers from any state and so he hasn't considered it. He said other states' travel bans were more likely "for general political consumption." He said he's never heard of anyone turned away at a border.

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Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that Louisiana will stay in Phase Two of reopening, as the number of COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations have started to rise in several regions across the state. The Governor will extend his Phase Two order for another 28 days, keeping in place occupancy limits and other restrictions.

As of today, Louisiana ranks seventh out of 23 states across the country experiencing an increase in COVID-19 positive cases. Those include the neighboring states of Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

“Louisiana reached two sad milestones today as we surpassed 3,000 deaths and 50,000 positive tests in our state. Each of these Louisianans is someone’s child, sibling, parent or friend, and we mourn every one of these losses,” Gov. Edwards said. “It is clear that COVID is alive and well in Louisiana, and as we see more people testing positive and admitted to hospitals, we simply are not ready to move to the next phase, and ease restrictions further as businesses open widely. Many of you are doing the right thing and I thank you for it. It’s incredibly disappointing to hear that there are still some people who refuse to wear masks in public, which puts all of us at greater risk of becoming sick. I implore Louisianans to be good neighbors, to stay at home when they are experiencing symptoms, to avoid crowds, physically distance, and to wear a mask when not around their immediate household whether inside or outside. These are simple things we can do to protect ourselves and each other.”

“While we know that increasing testing means that we will see more positive cases, we are still troubled by the rising case counts across the state, especially since around 90 percent of these new cases are coming from the community and not from congregate settings like nursing homes,” Gov. Edwards said. “It is up to all of us to check our own behaviors and to take responsibility for slowing the spread of COVID. We do not want to have to go back to a time of increased restrictions where fewer businesses could operate. It is my hope that all of us – from government officials to business owners to students – will do the right thing.”

Louisianans should wear face masks whenever they are in public, practice social distancing, wash their hands frequently and avoid going out in public when they are experiencing any symptoms.

  • Click here to complete a self-assessment from the Louisiana Department of Health to determine your level of risk for becoming very ill from COVID-19.
  • Click here to view the presentation from the Governor’s June 22 media briefing.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  • Business and faith leaders can visit OpenSafely.la.gov to receive guidance and updates from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Louisiana Department of Health. Businesses that require approval of reopening plans will be notified by the State Fire Marshal’s Office or the Louisiana Department of Health.
  • For a guide listing businesses that can be open at any given time, visit gov.louisiana.gov/page/can-this-business-open.
  • Members of the public can continue to get information from the Governor’s Office by visiting Coronavirus.la.gov and by texting LACOVID to 67283.
  • Members of the public can continue to get information from the Department of Health by visiting ldh.la.gov/coronavirus .
  • People with general questions about COVID-19 in Louisiana can call 211.

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