Despite petition calling an end to COVID-19 restrictions, Gov. Edwards says ‘Louisiana remains in Phase Three’

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Gov. John Bel Edwards warned Wednesday that Hurricane Delta is expected to bring significant impacts well into central Louisiana after it makes landfall Friday as what is expected to be a major hurricane of at least a Category 3 in strength.

BATON ROUGE, La. (The Livingston Parish News) – Despite a petition that lawmakers say terminates all restrictions regarding the coronavirus pandemic, Louisiana remains under Phase Three of its reopening plan, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday.

“Louisiana remains in Phase Three,” Edwards said via social media. “As many states are seeing COVID cases increase, our cases and test positivity rates remain lower than our neighbors. Our mitigation measures work, and we’ll continue to see progress if we follow the guidelines in place.”

Edwards continued to defend his actions during a press conference on Monday, when he also announced the filing of a lawsuit with the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge defending his public health emergency order.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare a section of the law used by some members of the Louisiana House of Representatives to attempt to overrule his public health emergency order by petition unconstitutional.

It also says the petition was improperly filed because the Legislature did not consult the public health authority, the Louisiana Department of Health.

“We are still very much in the midst of a public health emergency, whether members of the House of Representatives or the attorney general wish to acknowledge it or not,” Edwards said.

The latest announcement comes amid a confusing time for Louisiana, which has been under a public health emergency since March that, according to Republican lawmakers and Attorney General Jeff Landry, is no longer valid.

On Friday, Republican lawmakers sent the governor a petition to cancel all COVID-19 restrictions. The petition was signed by 65 of the 68 House Republicans, including all four who represent portions of Livingston Parish: Valarie Hodges, District 64; Sherman Mack, District 95; Buddy Mincey, Jr., District 71; and Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder, District 81.

“The House has exhausted every available legislative remedy and has been left with no other option but to exercise its legislative right to terminate the Governor’s emergency order,” Schexnayder said in a statement.

The petition suspends the order for seven days.

This weekend, Landry — who has publicly feuded with the governor regarding COVID-19 restrictions — issued a statement saying the termination process is “effective immediately.”

“The termination of emergency powers does not require any additional action other than the signed petition,” Landry wrote. “Upon completion of the signed petition, the Governor is directed to issue a proclamation informing the public of the termination.”

Edwards has yet to issue any proclamation voiding his emergency orders and on Friday blasted attempts by House Republicans to revoke his emergency orders as “reckless and irresponsible and unconscionable.”

He said terminating the public health emergency could jeopardize Louisiana’s allotment of federal funds for COVID-19 relief and also leave businesses and schools susceptible to lawsuits. He also warned the removal of restrictions could put Louisiana in a precarious situation in the midst of flu season and strain the state’s ability to deliver healthcare.

In the most recent report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Edwards said Louisiana had the best rate of new cases and percent positivity among a 10-state region that includes Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

Since March, more than 180,000 Louisianans have contracted the disease, leading to more than 5,600 deaths. As of Monday, 609 people were hospitalized due to the coronavirus, including 71 on mechanical ventilators.

“If there was ever a time to rise above partisan politics it is during a public health emergency,” Edwards said.

During Monday’s press conference, Edwards said the Phase Three order remains in place through Nov. 6, “with all the restrictions and mitigation measures that are in that proclamation.”

“This entire deal with the petition is not something I wanted,” Edwards said. “Going to court today is not something I wanted either, but we have to be focused and resolute on managing the public health emergency while also recovering from two hurricanes and preparing for another.”

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