NEW ORLEANS — "It's just too early to know" when Louisiana can begin relaxing stay-at-home orders that have devastated the state's economy to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday.
He was speaking to reporters in Monroe, in the northern part of the state, after touring sites of widespread damage from tornadoes on Sunday.
He was responding to a question about President Donald Trump's eagerness to get businesses re-opened around the nation.
Edwards, a Democrat, said he will continue to work with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on the issue.
State officials from both parties have presented a largely unified front in facing the crisis. But a state representative issued a statement Monday saying the order "must end" April 30.
"On May 1, we must begin opening as much as possible," Rep. Mark Wright, a Republican from Covington, said in a news release.
The number of deaths related to COVID-19 in Louisiana rose to 884 Monday, 44 higher than a day earlier, according to the latest figures from the state health department.
The number of people hospitalized with the disease caused by the virus was 2,134. That's 50 more than a day earlier. The number of those requiring ventilators was 461 — a slight increase from Sunday but still well below last week's numbers.
State officials have said social distancing efforts appear to be slowing the growth in serious coronavirus illnesses in Louisiana. Edwards on Monday stressed that the practice must continue for now to avoid a new spike in infections.
He also chastised those who aren't heeding the warning. He said there was evidence, including anecdotes and a website that records movements of cellphone customers, that many in the state were less mindful of the need for social distancing over the Easter weekend.
The overall number of Louisiana residents known to have been infected with the new coronavirus was 21,016 as of midday Monday, an increase of 421, as the number of people tested in the state surpassed 108,000.
The latest figures were released on the same day the state announced that it had made a one-day payment of more than $89.7 million to residents who have lost their jobs or had reduced hours due to the pandemic. That includes more than $66 million from a recently passed federal relief bill to fund the first of weekly $600 payments for unemployed people, including the self-employed who lost work because of the pandemic.
The state said that, as of Monday, just over 59 % of COVID-19 deaths in Louisiana occurred among African Americans. The figure was down from the 70% figure released last week. However, Edwards noted that the figures vary because the race of some of those affected is not available. Officials in Louisiana and elsewhere have expressed concerns over the disease's disparate effects on blacks. Edwards last week announced a task force to look into the issue.
During the absence of college sporting events as a result of the coronavirus battle, LSU announced a plan Monday to help provide badly needed medical supplies. The university said it's starting large-scale production of personal protective equipment in the assembly center where basketball games are usually played. University employees, working with doctors from New Orleans and Shreveport, are making heavy-duty, reusable gowns and face shields, all with materials donated by area businesses.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild symptoms like fever and a cough that resolve in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, more severe symptoms can occur, including pneumonia, that can lead to death.