Edwards Says Reopening State’s Economy Will Come in Phases

BATON ROUGE – As Louisiana officials decide when and where to begin lifting business restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, the state’s health care sector is likely to be among the first in line, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday.

Certain parts of the state with fewer cases of COVID-19 also could see more activity sooner than areas that remain hotspots, he said. As elected officials and outside groups urge action to get the economy moving again, Edwards stressed that decisions will be made carefully with guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“One of the first things that we’re going to have to do is make more medical services available,” Edwards said Tuesday. “We’re looking to see if we can open that up sooner rather than later.”

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Many businesses deemed essential under federal guidelines have been allowed to keep operating, though many others have been forced to close or restrict operations. At least two state elected officials, Rep. Mark Wright and Rep. Danny McCormick — both Republicans — have called for lifting most or all restrictions when the governor’s current order expires April 30, citing the economic damage.

“Originally, our goal was to ‘flatten the curve’ and protect our most vulnerable citizens,” McCormick says in a letter to his legislative colleagues. “Now, we seem to be paralyzed with fear. Our goal has rapidly transformed into the idea that no one should be exposed to or expected to contract COVID-19.”

Edwards’ says fully reopening the economy won’t happen all at once “like flipping a light switch.” Non-emergency medical procedures have been put on hold to save resources for dealing with the pandemic, but “you can only put those things off for so long,” he said.

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“Social distancing is going to be part of our future for some period of time,” Edwards said, as is wearing a mask in public and staying home when sick. “I think you’re going to see your temperature taken more than it’s ever been taken in order to gain admittance into different places.”

But allowing some businesses such as restaurants to fully reopen with lower occupancy limits might be an option, Edwards suggested. He said he wouldn’t wait until current guidelines expire at the end of the month before letting people know what would happen next.

Under the federal Paycheck Protection Program meant to help Louisiana’s small businesses harmed by the pandemic and response, more than 17,000 loans worth about $3.7 billion have been approved, officials said.  

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According to the Louisiana Department of Health, at least 1,013 Louisiana residents have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Of the 129 new deaths in Tuesday’s noon report, representing the biggest single-day increase so far, 21 occurred during the previous 24 hours and 72 happened during the previous three days, Edwards said.

But despite crossing the grim 1,000-death milestone, officials continue to see some encouraging trends, as rates of hospitalizations and ventilator usage decrease. Louisiana is not currently on pace to exceed the capacity of its health care system in any region of the state, Edwards said.

As he usually does, Edwards warned that infections may spike once again if people don’t follow mitigation mandates, which mostly consist of staying home as much as possible, avoiding groups and maintaining distance between yourself and others when going out into public. A reported increase in social activity and movement in Louisiana during Easter weekend could lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases several days from now.

“It’s not going to be over tomorrow,” Edwards said. “It’s not going to be over two weeks from now.”


By David Jacobs of the Center Square

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