As more cases of coronavirus were confirmed statewide on Wednesday, local officials held a briefing to discuss the status of services. Meanwhile, health experts stressed social distancing as the best way to stay healthy and prevent the virus from spreading.
The state Department of Health confirmed 280 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with seven deaths. No cases were confirmed in Southwest Louisiana.
"We all have a huge part to play," Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, Region 5 Office of Public Health director, said of social distancing. "Be confident that the measures we are doing today are going to save lives."
The state Health Department has a new tab that gives demographic information about the known coronavirus cases, Cavanaugh said. Results for tests done on the private side will become more available.
Dr. Manley Jordan, Lake Charles Memorial Health System Chief Medical Officer, said testing in the community is limited and is based on decisions made by primary care physicians. Cavanaugh said testing will improve over time as supply catches up with the demand.
Tanya McGee, executive director of the Imperial Calcasieu Human Services Authority, said area behavioral health services are functioning, with fewer face-to-face contact. She said the state is looking to get Medicaid approval for phone therapy. McGee said those on prescription medication should reach out to their providers and prescribers.
"Right now, prescibers are providing three-month refills," she said. "So, I think it's good to plan ahead."
Those experiencing stress related to the coronavirus outbreak can call a counseling hotline at 866-310-7977.
Denise Durel, United Way of Southwest Louisiana Director, said residents can dial 211, a 24-hour hotline, to get answers on non-emergency coronavirus questions. She said more than 7,000 calls were made statewide as of Wednesday, with more than 15,000 text messages sent to 898211.
Dick Gremillion, Calcasieu Parish Office of Emergency Preparednesss director, said the agency continues to be in preparation mode. The parish has seen 645 new unemployment applications over the last few days, he said.
Calcasieu Police Jury President Tony Guillory said the Burton Complex facility and Calcasieu Emergency Response Training center are closed until further notice. Police Jury meetings have also been canceled.
Many parish services remain open: Animal Services, Mosquito Control, Human Services, Planning and Development, Public Works, Office of Juvenile Justice Services, the MARC center, public transit, solid waste convenience centers, parks, boat launches, RV and tent camping facilities, garbage collection. Updates on closures will be posted on calcasieuparish.gov.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said City Hall remains open with limited services. He said he has received more calls from residents wanting to help than from those seeking assistance.
"We have people that live here who care about their neighbors," Hunter said.
Hunter urged residents to support local businesses, if possible.
Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso said the coronavirus situation is far from the norm. However, crime has not increased in the area. He said he doesn't see any reason to impose a curfew.
"Things have been as normal for me as they could be, from a crime standpoint," he said. "If you see us panic, then it's time to panic. We're not going to panic. We are going to handle this."
Mancuso said school resource officers have been dispersed to parking lots of grocery stores.
Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier said the Family and Juvenile Courts will only hear emergency cases until notified otherwise. Those with questions can call 437-3363. He said the district attorney's office remains open. Those needing to talk with someone at the office should call 437-3400 instead of going to the office.
R.B. Smith, vice president of business and workforce development for the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said the Small Business Administration was expected on Wednesday to approve long-term loans for businesses impacted by coronavirus. He said the alliance is conducting an online survey to get information from impacted businesses in the region. The survey can be found at allianceswla.org/covid-19.
"We need every business to respond to the survey so we can compile the information and bring it to our state and federal officials to request relief whenever it comes available," Smith said.
Jim Rock, Lake Area Industry Alliance executive director, said more than 7,000 residents are working because the plants are operating. They also help employ contractors and service providers.
Mancuso said law enforcement will issue warnings to bars and restaurants that aren't following directives by Gov. John Bel Edwards to close to the public. Officers may submit a report to the state Health Department if those businesses don't comply. Law enforcement may also get with a municipality to potentially pull their occupational license.
Hunter said a local business that had patrons late Tuesday complied with requests to close.