Edwards ‘encouraged’ by Louisiana’s progress against COVID-19 but won’t make announcement regarding Phase Two until next week

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at a news conference to discuss testing statistics and contact tracing pertaining to COVID-10, Friday, May 8, 2020, at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (The Livingston Parish News) – Louisiana is tracking “reasonably well” in slowing the growth of the novel coronavirus, but any decision on entering Phase Two of reopening the economy will have to wait until next week, Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters on Wednesday.

Phase One, which began on May 15 when Edwards lifted the state’s stay-at-home order, is set to end on Friday, June 5. Edwards has said for weeks that he expects to make a decision on whether to keep to that deadline or extend the order by June 1.

Speaking to reporters, Edwards said he is “encouraged” by where Louisiana currently stands in its fight against the COVID-19 outbreak, especially considering where the state was two months ago.

After having the second-most COVID-19 cases per capita in the country — not to mention the fastest growth rate at one time in the world — Louisiana is now No. 9 in the country per-capita cases. The state also dropped below 800 hospitalizations on Wednesday for the first time since March 27.

Additionally, the percentage of positive tests are nearing the 10-percent benchmark health experts are calling for. Just over 11 percent of Louisiana’s 347,647 tests have resulted in a confirmed case (38,497). But over the last seven days, that percentage has dropped even further to a 4-percent positive rate on 42,266 new tests (1,993 cases).

In the weeks after the virus first struck, Louisiana hovered around a 40-percent rate of positivity, Edwards said.

However, the governor declined to make any announcement about entering Phase Two — which would open more businesses and ease restrictions on ones already opened — until after he and his team dig into the data over the weekend. But he added that his office hasn’t “seen anything that indicates there is a surge in cases.”

“There’s so many things that you look at [when talking about moving into Phase Two], so I’m not going to tell you we’re meeting the criteria,” Edwards said. “But I will tell you that we are tracking reasonably well when you look at overall numbers for the state. The percentage of positive cases are well in hand and the number of hospitalizations is the lowest in two months.”

“I am encouraged, but I am not making any announcement today.”

The state is also well on its way to Edwards’ goal of 200,000 tests a month. With aid from the White House, Edwards announced last month that the state plans to test 200,000 people monthly in May and June, a key factor as the state begins reopening more sectors of the economy.

As of Wednesday, the state had tested 179,369 people, or about 6,600 people a day. To reach the 200,000 marker, the state would need to complete roughly 5,100 tests a day over the next four days.

The 200,000 tests would be 4.3 percent of Louisiana’s population, which Edwards said is more than double the minimum amount recommended by the federal government (no less than two percent).

Testing has increased significantly over the last few weeks, especially as the Louisiana National Guard brings mobile testing sites into previously underserved areas.

However, Dr. Alex Billioux said there are three parishes that have still yet to test 2 percent of their populations, which is why the Office of Public Health has “doubled down” on long standing partnerships with community clinics, hospitals, and federally-qualified health centers that serve communities but not resourced with testing kits they needed.”

“We’re ramping up testing across the state, especially in those areas that haven’t had good testing,” the governor said.

While testing has gone up and daily cases have gone down, Edwards said he noticed a troubling sign over the weekend that could undo everything that’s been done — people ignoring social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

Photos emerged over the Memorial Day weekend of people gathering in large groups without facemasks, which health officials have said can slow the spread of COVID-19. Edwards said implored people to adhere to the safety measures to get the state back to normal “as quickly as possible.”

“We need compliance,” he said. “We all have a goal to get back to as much normalcy as possible… but as we do that, we have to do it safely. If we have cases spike, people won’t resume their lives as normal.

“There is only one way to go from No. 2 [nationally in cases per capita] to No. 9, and that’s because the people have for the most part done what we’re asking. But over time, it’s human nature to say we’re past this. We’re not past this.”

David Gray | The News

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