Gov. John Bel Edwards cautioned Louisiana residents Wednesday to ready for an expected surge in coronavirus cases as testing capacity grows statewide. His warning was coupled with already grim statistics as the state reported its seventh death from the disease spreading across the country and its number of positive cases neared 300.
“I want people to be prepared for this,” the Democratic governor said. “It is going to get much worse before it gets better.”
Although Edwards said he doesn’t expect a statewide order for residents to shelter in place, he said he could issue limited shelter-in-place orders in certain areas of Louisiana as the outbreak escalates. He urged residents to take his warnings seriously to stay home as much as possible.
“We don’t want to look like Italy two weeks from now,” Edwards said, referencing one of the pandemic’s worst hotspots.
The New Orleans region remains the virus epicenter in Louisiana, with most of the positive tests and all of the state’s deaths. Four of the people who died from the virus were residents of New Orleans retirement home Lambeth House, which has seen a cluster of cases. Two of the victims announced Wednesday, aged 98 and 92, were residents there, Edwards said. Wednesday’s third victim was a 72-year-old resident of the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson Parish, the health department said.
COVID-19 has reached 13 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, including the Baton Rouge region and a corner of northwest Louisiana, according to state data. Positive tests for the virus statewide jumped to 280, up from 196 a day earlier.
Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a doctor, said Louisiana has the third highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita in the nation. But he acknowledged the state has limited knowledge about the full spread because of the initial slow pace of testing.
A drive-thru testing center in Baton Rouge that shuttered after running out of testing kits reopened Wednesday, while new testing began at the Cajundome in Lafayette. Edwards said new drive-thru test sites in the New Orleans area will open Friday.
Louisiana was readying several state parks to house people who have tested positive for the coronavirus and don’t need hospitalization, but can’t return home because of elderly relatives or other reasons. Already, at least 10 people infected with the virus were staying at cabins in Jefferson Parish’s Bayou Segnette State Park, Edwards said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Edwards has closed K-12 public schools, bars, gyms, casinos and movie theaters and has limited restaurants to delivery and takeout until at least April 13. Public gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has prohibited all public and private gatherings. Louisiana lawmakers have temporarily adjourned their legislative session. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a huge tourism driver that draws hundreds of thousands of people, is postponed until fall.
With schools shuttered across Louisiana, the state education department asked federal officials to suspend standardized testing requirements for public school students, along with school performance scores and letter grades.
Amid some criticism that Edwards’ restrictions are too harsh, Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry defended the governor’s aggressive actions as legal and aimed at protecting the public — a rare moment of agreement between the political rivals.
“He is acting with restraint and with consideration to individual liberties and freedoms, and I appreciate that,” Landry said Wednesday, appearing with Edwards.
Trying to keep more people in their homes, Edwards brought one of Louisiana’s most popular figures to his Wednesday briefing: LSU football coach Ed Orgeron, who led the school to a national championship this year.
Orgeron told Louisiana’s residents to follow the governor’s advice: “Have faith in the game plan. We’re going to get through this.”