(The Center Square) – Louisiana is entering a critical stretch in its efforts to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday.
“We have two weeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
While the fight against the outbreak and its impact will continue much longer, the next two weeks are critical to “flatten the curve” and avoid overwhelming health care providers, he said.
The Louisiana National Guard is helping to open three drive-through testing sites in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, hopefully by Friday. Edwards said state officials are awaiting testing kits and other supplies from the federal government.
A testing site in Baton Rouge that was opened this week only to shut down when it ran out of testing kits reportedly is operational again.
He said supplies and resources are limited and only people with COVID-19 symptoms and a doctor’s referral should get tested. People who do not have a primary care provider to contact 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 with minor renovations can house patients. The “staffing surge” will be more of a challenge than the “bed surge,” Edwards said.
All eviction and foreclosure proceedings are suspended, Edwards said, adding that people should still continue to make their rent or mortgage payments. Unemployment benefits are available for people who are temporarily out of work, though the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s website has crashed multiple times as an unprecedented number of people apply at once.
Edwards also has closed bars, theaters and fitness facilities, limited restaurants to delivery and carryout only, and banned gatherings of 50 or more people in the same room, among other restrictions.
Attorney General Jeff Landry, making a rare joint appearance with Edwards, 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.
Edwards and Landry usually are political enemies. On Wednesday, Landry endorsed the governor’s actions and urged people to respect the various restrictions.
“There are much more drastic measures that could be taken,” Landry said, without giving examples. “[Edwards] is acting with restraint and consideration of individual liberty and freedoms, and I appreciate that.”
Landry said his office is investigating about 51 allegations of price-gouging. He also urged the public to be wary of scams and to not share sensitive information over the internet unless they initiated the contact.
Wednesday’s press conference also included LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron, who 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.