Governor says next 2 weeks are critical

By DAVID JACOBS,

The state of Louisiana has reached a critical stretch in its efforts to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday.

“We have two weeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” he said. The fight against Coronavirus and its impact will continue for much longer, he said, but the next two weeks are critical to “flatten the curve” and to avoid overwhelming health care providers.

The Louisiana National Guard is preparing to help open three drive-through testing sites in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish this week. State officials are waiting for testing kits and other supplies from the federal government, Edwards said. A testing site in Baton Rouge was opened this week but it had to close when it ran out of testing kits. That site is now close to opening again.

Edwards pointed out that supplies and resources are limited and only those folks who have COVID-19 symptoms and a doctor’s referral should get tested. People who do not have a primary care doctor can call 211.

“As we flatten the curve, we have to ramp up our surge capacity to deliver health care,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana Department of Health is working to identify health care workers who are available to treat the sick, as well as temporary facilities that could house patients with only minor renovations. Lining up the necessary staff will be more challenging that finding the necessary bed spaces, the governor said.

The governor noted that unemployment benefits are available for people who are temporarily out of work, but the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s website has gone down several times because so many people are applying at once.

Edwards has closed schools, bars, theaters, and fitness facilities, and has limited restaurants to delivery and carryout only, and he has banned gatherings of 50 or more people in the same room, among other restrictions.

Attorney General Jeff Landry made an unusual joint appearance with Edwards on Wednesday. Landry said the governor’s actions appear to fall within his legal authority to combat a public health crisis. Landry said his staff is reviewing relevant statutes to ensure the government’s “emergency powers” are “within reach in order to protect the public.” “We may need to make adjustments to make sure we stay within the law and the constitution,” Landry added.

Despite their past political hostilities, on Wednesday Landry endorsed the governor’s actions and urged people to respect the various restrictions. Landry said his office is investigating several dozen allegations of price-gouging. He also urged the public to watch out for scams and to be careful about sharing sensitive information over the internet.

In addition to Edwards and Landry, LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron also spoke at Wednesday’s press conference. Orgeron is part of the state’s campaign to spread awareness about safety measures. “Have faith in the game plan,” he said. “We’re going to get through this.”

Louisiana had 257 reported coronavirus infections as of mid-day Wednesday. Six people had died, all New Orleans residents. The number of positive tests for the virus is likely to spike dramatically over the next day or so as more than 1,000 test results are reported all at once, Edwards said.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, coughing and trouble breathing. Most people who have it develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually the elderly and those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

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