Governor announces official creation of “Resilient Louisiana Commission” to advise on reopening economy

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BATON ROUGE, La. (The Livingston Parish News) – Reopening the economy, especially service and healthcare industries that were drastically affected due to the spread of the the novel coronavirus, will not be simple according to Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Gov. Edwards was joined by Rep. Steve Scalise, who will be a part of President Donald Trump’s task force on reopening the economy. Sen. John Kennedy will also be a member, it was announced Thursday morning.

Edwards said that, barring any spike increase in case counts or hospitalizations, Louisiana residents will begin to see sectors of the economy re-open beginning May 1.

Scalise echoed what Edwards said, that there is a path to opening up the economy, all while keeping public safety and health in mind. Scalise referenced two Louisiana representatives – Congressman Ralph Abraham and Senator Bill Cassidy – who are doctors by trade and have provided ideas on how to effectively reopen the economy without seeing a spike in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“(Louisiana) did a Herculean job to turn around one of the fastest (coronavirus) growth rates in the world,” Edwards said Wednesday, “we don’t want to see that happen again.”

To that end, Edwards announced Thursday the creation of Resilient Louisiana, a state commission charged with examining Louisiana’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic and making recommendations for more resilient business-related activities and commerce in the coming months. The 18-member panel includes Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, and will be co-chaired by Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson and health care leader Terrie Sterling, a Baton Rouge consultant and retired Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System executive.

“COVID-19 represents a historic challenge to our ability to respond medically and save lives, but it also represents a tremendous challenge for Louisiana’s economy and the prosperity of each one of our residents,” Gov. Edwards said. “For these reasons, we need a comprehensive game plan for creating a more resilient Louisiana. I’m proud of the men and women who have accepted the challenge to tackle these important issues, and to ensure that Louisiana becomes a leader for the future safety and success of our people.”

The commission will include a task force structure dedicated to strengthening specific sectors of Louisiana’s economy. Task forces will be focused on solutions for such critical sectors as Energy and Manufacturing; Health Care, including improved delivery of medical care, health equity and enhanced facilities; Tourism, including hotels, gaming and related hospitality entities; Rural Development; Education and Workforce, with attention given to the training needs of displaced workers; and Economic and Community Development, including strategies for making regions and communities more resilient in the face of future health care threats and other risks.

Both the governor and Scalise discussed that more testing will be coming after the Stay at Home order is amended to reflect life after May 1. That includes COVID-19 testing, effective anti-body testing, temperature taking to enter public venues, social distancing, and possibly more.

Edwards and Scalise also said that the federal and state government were going to have to be smart about the transition, and that it would happen in phases. The governor added that during the public health emergency declared by the state, he does have some unilateral ability to make decisions – but wants the commission and stakeholders, including industry representative groups, to make the longer term calls.

“The commission only has a certain amount of time to provide short term suggestions to me, because of the timing,” the governor said Thursday, “but I will take any recommendations they have and look forward to the next few months, and up to a year because of the nature of the virus. Edwards said he wants the commission to be a clear and transparent means for the economy to re-open.

The governor said he expects the first industry to come back online is elective healthcare procedures, clinics, and after hours locations for treatment of issues that were, when COVID-19 began to spread, non-life threatening.

“We have to get these clinics and hospitals back open,” the governor said, “because those procedures which were not life-threatening at the time of the “Stay at Home” order can become life-threatening if not addressed.”

Scalise said that the economy cannot stay closed for another month, six months, or a year – Louisiana had to find a way to open, or there wouldn’t be an economy left.

Joining Lt. Gov. Nungesser and Co-Chairs Pierson and Sterling on the commission will be:

  • State Sen. Ronnie Johns, Senate Commerce chair, designee of Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez.
  • State Rep. Paula Davis, House Commerce chair, designee of Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder.
  • Scott Hensgens, PAR chairman; managing partner, Breazeala, Sachse & Wilson.
  • Tyron Picard, CABL chairman; founding principal, The Picard Group.
  • Tim Temple, C100 Louisiana vice chair; president and CEO, Temptan LLC.
  • Bill Hogan, representing Louisiana bankers; president and CEO, Century Next Bank.
  • Louis Reine, representing labor unions; Louisiana AFL-CIO president.
  • Michael R. LaFitte II, representing small businesses; owner, Shreveport Haberdashery.
  • Walt Leger III, representing tourism; senior vice president, general counsel, New Orleans & Company.
  • Ti Martin, representing restaurants; co-proprietor, Commander’s Palace.
  • Jade Brown-Russell, Urban League of Louisiana chair; principal, J.D. Russell Consulting.
  • Sonia Perez, representing Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency-essential industry; president, AT&T Louisiana.
  • Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne (ex-officio member).
  • Secretary Kimberly Robinson, Louisiana Department of Revenue (ex-officio member).
  • Dr. Jim Richardson, John Rhea Alumni Professor of Economics, LSU (ex-officio member).

The number of hospitalizations and patients on ventilators from the novel coronavirus dropped on Thursday as the overall statewide case count rose by less than 600 for the fourth straight day, according to the latest figures from the Louisiana Department of Health.

The number of reported hospitalizations dropped to 1,914 on Thursday, a decrease of 29 from the day before, while the number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators dropped to 396, also a decrease of 29 in one day.

The statewide case count of the novel coronavirus increased by 433 overnight, bringing the statewide total to 22,532, according to the Department of Health. In the last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state is starting to see a “flattening of the curve” in regards to the number of new cases.

Despite the positive news regarding medical capacity and case growth, Wednesday was another deadly day from COVID-19 in Louisiana, which suffered a reported 90 new fatalities from the day before, according to the Department of Health.

This comes two days after the state experienced its deadliest jump to date — 129 deaths, nearly double the previous highest single-day increase. Thursday, the state has reported 53 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,156. Forty-nine out of the state’s 64 parishes are reporting at least one COVID-19 related death, including four in Livingston Parish.

The state has now completed 126,000 tests, either through the state lab or commercial labs. The vast majority of tests (95 percent) have been conducted in commercial labs, according to the Department of Health. Louisiana ranks near the stop nationally in numbers of tests per capita.

Edwards held his press conference at 11 a.m. today, April 16, due to a call with President Donald Trump and the COVID-19 task force this afternoon, as well as a one-to-one interview with the Advocate.

McHugh David | The News

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