The second-guessers wasted no time in criticizing Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to extend Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening from the coronavirus pandemic to Aug. 7. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and give advice when you don’t have to make the tough decisions.
State Attorney General Jeff Landry, a constant critic of the governor, issued an earlier opinion saying Edwards’ statewide face mask mandate is likely unconstitutional and unenforceable. Actually, Landry’s non-binding opinion doesn’t mean that much, and it was issued primarily for political gain.
Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, is another frequent critic of the governor. He said he was disappointed “with the lack of a clearly articulated and creative pathway to a safe, reopened society, school system and economy.”
Waguespack didn’t offer any suggestions about what that creative pathway should or could be. And he obviously ignored the reality of the current coronavirus situation that Edwards explained and that even the White House and Vice President Mike Pence have said needs tougher restrictions.
Ultra-conservative Republicans in the state Legislature who have been trying to override the governor’s reopening plans since the beginning are expected to use this recent criticism as fuel for their cause.
The reality is, as of Wednesday, there were 1,581 people in hospitals with COVID-19, the highest hospitalization number since May 1. The 36 deaths reported Tuesday were the most in the state since May 28.
Edwards is taking the advice of medical professionals, and Dr. Alex Billioux said the state has “clearly turned a corner in the wrong direction.” Billioux is assistant secretary for the state Office of Public Health.
“We are seeing a tremendous amount of COVID-19, a tremendous amount of spread across the state,” Billioux said. He said in some cases, hospitals are having problems even admitting patients. Medical officials in Southwest Louisiana have said hospitalizations have been an area problem for days now.
The latest White House report a week ago called for the closure of gyms and rolling back indoor capacity. Louisiana was identified as one of 18 states in the “red zone” for cases and one of 11 states in the “red zone” for test positivity.
Edwards said Louisiana is No. 2 in the nation, behind New York state, in the high percentage of total residents infected with the virus. Officials said the rate of positive cases in the state, which has been hovering around 10 percent, is now 15.46 percent.
The governor didn’t totally ignore the White House advice. He had already issued his statewide mask mandate, limited crowd sizes and closed bars. The Advocate reported that Edwards “has largely followed the White House guidance for reopening since the pandemic hit.”
Perhaps the best indication the pandemic is spreading in Louisiana and elsewhere came Tuesday when President Trump warned that the “nasty horrible” coronavirus will get worse in the U.S. before it gets better. The Associated Press said Trump “also professed a newfound respect for the protective face masks he has seldom worn…”
“Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact,” the president said. “I’m getting used to the mask.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who has been under growing — and unfair — criticism from White House staffers, told NPR he was glad Trump has begun to promote mask-wearing.
“If we, during those conferences (like the one Trump had Tuesday), come out and have consistent, clear, non-contradictory messages, I believe it will be very helpful in getting people on the track of knowing the direction that we need to go to get this pandemic under control.”
Gov. Edwards had some encouraging words for those second-guessers who are always quick to come out of the woodwork.
“I believe in the people of Louisiana, who have already been able to flatten the curve once and who I know can do it again,” he said. “We have to do the things we have been talking about all along.”
Unfortunately, wearing face masks, keeping their distance and washing their hands often doesn’t seem to resonate with enough people in Louisiana and elsewhere. The AP interviewed Dr. Michael Saag of Birmingham, Ala., who spends much of his time treating COVID-19 patients, fighting for their lives.
The AP said Dr. Saag enters a different world when he walks out the door of his Alabama clinic. Many don’t wear masks, keep their distance from others or even seem aware of the intense struggle being waged against a virus that has cost about 140,000 lives nationwide and made so many — including the doctor — seriously ill.
The doctor said there is a disconnect with reality, which is a problem for second-guessers and those refusing to take recommended precautions. The doctor said that leaves those who are trying to do the right things angry, demoralized, bewildered and frustrated.
The reality is that COVID-19 is here in full force, and it’s deadly.