Coronavirus, Oil Glut Could Cost Local Governments $1B

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The coronavirus battle and the world oil glut could cost cities, parishes and school boards in Louisiana anywhere from $404 million to $1.1 billion over two fiscal years, the state’s Legislative Auditor’s Office said Thursday.

Business shutdowns and unemployment resulting from the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, lower demand for energy as a result of the virus fight and past increases in oil production by other countries that caused lower oil prices are factors in the report’s projections.

The losses are estimated for the current state fiscal year, which ends June 30, and for fiscal year 2021. The report lays out “optimistic” and “pessimistic” scenarios for the state’s recovery and the effects on local sales and property taxes and oil royalties. The report comes as Gov. John Bel Edwards weighs a variety of factors as he decides whether and how to allow businesses to reopen after a state emergency order expires May 15.

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Louisiana’s confirmed coronavirus cases now exceed 30,650 with more than 20,000 recovered. The death toll went up by 41 on Thursday to 2,135. Of those deaths, 709 were at nursing homes and 75 were at other residential care facilities for adults, the department said in a release updating the figures.

Although the number of confirmed cases has gone up as testing increases, and the death toll continues to rise, there have been some positive trends: The statewide hospitalization total dropped for the second day in a row, to 1,432. That number has trended downward since early April, when there were more than 2,100.

A major Louisiana health care provider announced plans Thursday to offer free COVID-19 and antibody testing to at least 2,500 New Orleans-area residents to study the prevalence there of the sometimes-deadly disease caused by the new coronavirus.

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Ochsner Health announced the plan to test residents of New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish in a news release. New Orleans and Jefferson together account for more than 13,000 of the more than 30,000 known cases in the state.

“This information will help inform community reopening plans and provide healthcare providers and leaders with more information about the novel virus,” the release said.

Ocshner’s release says its researchers hope to enroll at least 2,500 participants in the study. “Residents of all races, ethnicities, ages and neighborhoods are encouraged to sign up online so the study can accurately represent our community,” the statement said. Participants will be contacted if they are selected for the study.

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The economic toll of fighting the spread of the virus continues to mount.

More than 310,000 people qualified for unemployment benefits in Louisiana as of last week, according to figures released Thursday by the state labor department. The figure is an increase of about 10,000 from the previous week. There were less than 14,000 for the comparable week last year, according to a department news release from Baton Rouge.

The number of people filing new claims for unemployment was 50,941 last week, well above the 2,009 who filed in the comparable week of 2019, reflecting the continuing effects of the outbreak on the economy.

Meanwhile, there was more evidence of the virus’s toll on the culture-based tourism economy. This year’s French Quarter Festival and Satchmo Summerfest festival — both in New Orleans — were officially canceled Thursday, with organizers saying they plan to return next year.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For others, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.


By AP reporter Kevin McGill


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