Decision tough, but wise one

EDWARDS, TRUMP — President Donald Trump, right, during a White House meeting, praises Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bell Edwards for the governor's handling of his state's coronavirus pandemic crisis.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to extend the state’s stay-at-home order until May 15 isn’t being well received in some quarters, and that is understandable. None of us are happy about another two weeks of restrictions that have gone on for so long.

The reality is that Louisiana isn’t faring all that well in its dealings with the coronavirus pandemic and the number of deaths from COVID-19. The state had 27,660 virus cases at noon Wednesday, 1,802 deaths, 1,629 in the hospital and 17,303 had recovered.

Edwards said Monday, “The reality is the disease has spread through our state at a rate and at numbers that far exceed those of our neighbors.”

Louisiana has a population of 4.6 million, and its COVID-19 cases ranked ninth in the nation Wednesday morning. Texas has a population of 29 million, and it ranked 10th with 25,297 confirmed cases, 11,170 recovered and 663 deaths. Louisiana has nearly three times as many deaths as Texas but has only 16 percent of the Texas population.

Mississippi has a population of 3 million and it was in 15th position. It had 6,094 cases and 229 deaths. Arkansas has a population of 3 million and it was in 37th position. It had 3,017 cases, 987 recovered and 50 deaths.

The states in first through eighth position are New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida. The population in those states ranges from 39.5 million in California to 8 million in Massachusetts. Only Pennsylvania (1,716 deaths) and Florida (1,088) had fewer deaths than Louisiana.

Edwards said he would have preferred to say Louisiana was ready to proceed to the Phase 1 opening recommended by the federal government, but the state isn’t there. He said he isn’t going to fudge or pretend we’re better off than we are.

The governor consulted with medical experts at the LSU health science centers in New Orleans and Shreveport, at Tulane University and in Baton Rouge and he said they and Vice President Mike Pence all agreed on extending the stay-at-home and social distancing order until May 15.

The governor’s stay-at-home order that will continue bans gatherings of 10 or more, closes bars, gyms, casinos, shopping malls, barbershops, salons and other nonessential businesses and limits restaurants to drive-thru, delivery and takeout. However, there are three changes to the order that take place Friday.

Restaurants will be allowed to let customers eat outdoors on patios as long as there is no table service. Malls can operate curbside retail, and public-facing workers must wear masks.

Protests against the shutdowns have taken place in Louisiana and in many parts of the country and they are expected to continue. Republican leaders in the state House and Senate are insisting Edwards reopen the economy on a parish-by-parish basis, a move he has rejected.

State Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, and speaker pro-temp, told the LSU Manship School News Service that the governor’s decision “was really hurtful.” He said Edwards should have extended the order for a shorter period of time and re-evaluated the situation.

There is talk of legislators resuming their regular session Monday, but leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus are resisting that idea. Black residents have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), said, “We are obviously disappointed in today’s decision. Essential service industries such as groceries, hardware, maintenance and construction have operated safely and productively for weeks now and have shown us all that smart steps can be taken to protect the public AND serve the public at the same time.”

Louisiana has slowed the spread of the virus in recent weeks, but Edwards and Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary of the state’s Office of Public Health, said there has been an unequal slowing of the virus across the state.

New Orleans and western areas of the state are doing better, but the greater Baton Rouge, Acadiana and northeast Louisiana areas have all seen increasing case counts. Edwards said he didn’t want a “hot spot” to form in any area of the state.

Edwards is urging businesses to read his executive order closely because some have shut down even though they weren’t required to. He also continues to urge people to wear masks and to spend time outside in their free time.

While the state isn’t there yet, the governor said it is well on its way to reopening on May 16 because of more testing and increasing the number of people who contact persons who have been in close contact with those who are infected so they can isolate.

One problem is that some folks have a difficult time keeping that 6-foot safe distancing order and wearing masks. Walking outdoors can also be tricky because of trying to dodge others who won’t keep that 6-foot distance. Grocery shoppers also line up close together while waiting to get inside stores.

One thing for sure — May 16 can’t get here fast enough.

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