Pandemic has state in its grip

MASK MANDATE — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued a mask mandate that takes place at midnight Sunday because of rising coronavirus pandemic cases, and he has closed the state's bars.

Anyone who refuses to admit the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse in Louisiana isn’t willing to face the facts. Coronavirus cases are growing so quickly Gov. John Bel Edwards was forced Saturday to effectively shut down bars and issue a mask mandate that will take place in 61 of the state’s 64 parishes.

Beginning at midnight Sunday, the masks have to be worn when entering establishments and around others outside when social distancing isn’t possible. Grant, Red River and West Feliciana parishes are the three exceptions. Bars will be closed for inperson consumption, but will still be allowed to offer curbside pickup.

The Advocate reported that Louisiana becomes the latest southern state to increase restrictions. Texas did what Edwards is doing. Mississippi has mandated masks, and Florida has suspended the sale of alcohol at bars.

Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state Department of Health director for the New Orleans region, said current data confirms several things: The spread of the virus is worsening in every region of the state; the percentage of tests coming back positive is growing; the share of emergency room visits attributable to COVID-19-like illness is rising and, “most concerning,” hospitalizations of patients with the virus are spiking.

The state reported 2,642 new cases Friday and more cases over the past two weeks, 19,867, than at any point since the state found its first infection on March 9. The percentage of tests coming back positive has gone up from 4.8 percent in Phase 1 of reopening in mid- to late May to 9.5 percent over the past week.

Unfortunately, Lake Charles has become the state’s hottest spot. Local hospital officials sounded the alarm last week, saying their facilities are concerned about the rising use of intensive care beds used for the sickest coronavirus patients.

Edwards has said, “No matter how you slice and dice the numbers, to put it bluntly, COVID-19 is probably at present, more rampant in Louisiana than is has ever been. We have a statewide epidemic. It’s no longer one region or two regions.”

OK, so what is the answer? The best one, and the most controversial, is more people have to start wearing facemasks. Unfortunately, there are too many people who consider wearing them an infringement on their personal liberty.

The mayors of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport and the Jefferson Parish president and Kenner mayor have mandated masks, but a Shreveport judge temporarily suspended the Shreveport mandate. It was challenged in court by five Shreveport businesses, and a hearing on the issue is scheduled for July 20.

Fire marshal, health department and other state officials are giving businesses multiple opportunities to start following the rules before they are issued a citation or shut down. The Advocate calls that “a relaxed approach that has allowed restaurants, bars and other establishments to remain open after running afoul of the regulations.”

The health department last week said while its list is likely a severe undercount, bars posted the most coronavirus outbreaks, with 36 outbreaks tied to 393 cases, food processing plants with 11 outbreaks and 423 cases and industrial settings, which had 16 outbreaks and 117 cases.

The commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, in which LSU is a member, said Saturday morning his concern about the feasibility of playing football is “high to very high.” A decision will be made in late July.

Many pre-K and K-12 school systems around the state have announced their plans for reopening. However, as Jeff Davis Parish announced Friday, its plan has been revised. The superintendent said since Jeff Davis released it preliminary opening plans last month information and guidance from the state is constantly changing and plans have to be modified.

Make no mistake about it, the coronavirus pandemic that has resurfaced with alarming results is making everyone’s plans questionable. Unfortunately, once states began reopening in phases, too many people considered things were wide open again.

Traffic congestion has returned to Lake Charles during most of the day. Mask-wearing in this area has improved some, but there are still too many failing to wear masks and observe social distancing.

The realization that 3,295 people in Louisiana have died from COVID-19, which is probably a much higher number, doesn’t seem to bother a lot of folks. Maybe if we knew who some of them were, it would make a difference.

I’m trying to add some more years to my life by wearing a mask around others, observing my distance when I can and by staying at home as often as possible. Paraphrasing that biblical passage, I am trying to “do unto others as I wish they would do unto me.”

More people are beginning to make that special effort, but not nearly enough to slow this disturbing rise in coronavirus cases. Now that citizens know how rapid the virus is spreading, Edwards said he believes they will rise to the occasion.

We hope he’s right because too many lives are at stake.

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