State close, but not there yet

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.

A number of people are complaining about Gov. John Bel Edwards extending tough coronavirus measures through May 15, but it hasn’t slowed activity. Traffic is increasing and safety rules are being ignored by too many.

People are still supposed to wash their hands often, keep a safe, six-foot distance from others, avoid congregating in large numbers and wear masks during social contacts.

Restaurants are allowed to seat customers outside, but without table service. Some are following the distance requirements, but others that put up tents outside end up having people crowded together.

Every time there is a protest, and there have been some at the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge, people are sticking together like glue. Beaches opened up in some states and they had to be closed because of overcrowding.

The Legislature is meeting again, and lawmakers were encouraged to wear masks in order to protect others, but not everyone is complying.

Many weren’t wearing masks as the leadership prescribed, and The Advocate reported that they “milled around the chamber chatting and joking with one another.” Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, had a sergeant-at-arms break up groups of lawmakers who gathered in large clusters.

Some were trying to follow the rules, and one House member tweeted that “all staff and media who I can see from my chair are wearing masks and trying to keep their distance. It’s half the Republican legislators who are not,” she said. A number of GOP lawmakers aren’t happy about Edwards extending his stay-at-home and other orders.

Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics.com in his “Tracker” report called Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, and chairman of the House Republican Delegation, sponsor of “the most high-profile resolution of the regular session.” He said Miguez’ goal is to help parish leaders safely reopen their economies on a parish-by-parish basis.

House Concurrent Resolution 58 actually goes further than that. It suspends the governor’s authority to declare an emergency, disaster, or public health emergency as it relates to the coronavirus. However, overriding the governor’s orders jeopardizes the federal grants designed to help states combat the disease.

A lawmaker who became ill with COVID-like symptoms said, “I recovered and I survived and I will wear a mask … You may not feel or be affected, but you want to respect someone else’s space.”

I have noticed traffic is picking up in Lake Charles, which means people aren’t staying at home as much as they had been. The same thing is happening in other parts of the state.

“I can tell you traffic is picking up in the parish,” said the director of transportation for East Baton Rouge Parish. “I drive these roads every day,” he said, “and I have noticed traffic heavier on many major roadways.”

Neighboring states are opening up their economies, and Louisianans will be affected as they travel to Mississippi, Texas and Alabama where virus cases appear to be on the rise.

Will Sutton, a columnist for The Advocate, said he took time Saturday in New Orleans to visit some grocery stores, gas stations, beauty supply stores and Dollar Stores and said he was “pretty disappointed, and I’m afraid.” He said few people were wearing masks wherever he went. Some store workers weren’t wearing them, either, he said.

“That’s a problem,” Sutton said. “We can’t let our guard down. Wearing a mask is part of being neighborly. We’re protecting others. Not wearing a mask is like being on military duty, letting your guard down because you haven’t seen any action. Then you get popped, and so do others.”

Despite resistance from mostly conservative quarters, Alford reported Public Policy Polling continues to find strong support for the governor’s leadership during the coronavirus. It found that 64 percent of voters approve of the job he’s doing in handling the crisis and only 22 percent disapprove. Democrats approved 85 to 8 percent, independents 50 to 31 percent and Republicans approved 46 to 36 percent.

Edwards drew praise from President Donald Trump for his handling of the crisis, and their friendship has helped the state get promises of 200,000 coronavirus testing kits a month from the federal government. Those early tests will be used in nursing homes and at prisons where COVID-19 has taken an extremely heavy death toll.

The governor said he will consider the possibility of loosening restrictions across the state by region on May 15 if certain areas of the state continue to fall short of federal benchmarks for reopening. However, newspaper reports said he also sounded optimistic that the influx of tests may put the state in a better position to enter Phase 1 of the reopening on May 16.

Our early and heavy caseload and death counts slowed the state’s progress. However, Louisiana has come a long way since its early, dark days of the coronavirus pandemic, and we need to keep up the protective measures that got us here.

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