St. Martin Parish president warns bars may be forced to close as parish sees spike in COVID-19 positivity rates

Local News
ST. MARTIN PARISH, La. (KLFY)- St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars has announced his concerns about the potential closure of bars and lounges if the parish cannot lower its above 10 percent positive rate of COVID-19.

Shortly before noon on Friday, Cedars released the following statement to the public:

We have been advised by the Governor’s Office and White House Task Force that our state, and nation, are experiencing a “third surge” in the COVID-19 Pandemic battle. The facts and data certainly validate those conclusions. Thus, I am constrained to note the following.

BARS AND LOUNGES

The Governor’s current Executive Orders mandate that all bars must close for on-premises consumption of food or drinks. However, if a bar is located in a Parish that has a percent positivity rate of 5% or below for two consecutive weeks, the Parish may permit the bars within its jurisdiction to re-open under specific guidelines/restrictions. On September 30, 2020, the Parish satisfied the 5% positivity requirements. Thus, I immediately issued a proclamation allowing bars and lounges to re-open.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Governor’s Orders further provide that should any parish where a bar has re-opened subsequently exceeds 10% positivity for two consecutive weeks, then the bars in that parish must be closed for on-premises consumption unless and until the percent positivity decreases to 5% or less for two consecutive weeks. Therein lies my concerns. St. Martin Parish positivity rates since September 30, 2020, have been:

  • October 7: 3.6%
  • October 14: 5.0%
  • October 21: 8.2%
  • October 28: 11.3%
  • November 10: 9.8%
  • November 18: 12.0%

I am fearful that next Wednesday when the next positivity rates are released, our percentage will be in excess of 10%, thus prompting ATC to close the bars.

Therefore, I felt compelled to advise the public of this issue and request that all bar owners and employees be cognizant of this situation especially in view of the following information.

DISTURBING UPWARD TREND IN CASES

It has quite been some time since I have commented on the COVID-19 Pandemic from a general perspective. Candidly, the aggressive stance of the State in the handling of the pandemic did not, in my view, warrant additional commentary. Moreover, the work of the State Fire Marshal in the application of the Governor’s Executive Orders were both business and activity specific. I refer to the guidance afforded at https://opensafely.la.gov/.

During the time frame commencing several days after the Governor’s July 13 “mask mandate” (Executive Order 89 JBE 2020) and ending October 23, 2020, we saw a reduction in hospitalizations from 1,600 to 603 statewide and from 295 to 65 in the Acadiana Region (Region IV). The daily number of new cases diminished substantially, as did the percent positivity rates. All of these declines occurred as the State opened up more in Phase 3 – schools reopened, Labor Day was celebrated, storms struck our state, churches began live services, and sporting events were allowed.

Since October 23, 2020, until now, we have, unfortunately, seen a marked reversal of the forgoing positive trends. Statewide hospitalizations have increased from 603 to 909. In Region IV, hospitalizations have increased from 65 to 121. Positivity rates have risen at an alarming rate. In St. Martin Parish, our positivity rates have drastically climbed from less than 5% to 12%.

Against the foregoing backdrop, one must ponder what is different-what has changed-since October 23, 2020. The answer is simple. It is NOT the fact that we have “opened up” more. Rather, no one can in good faith deny that, from a state and local perspective, we have abandoned personal behavioral measures including mask wearing, social distancing, the avoidance of large crowds, particularly indoors, and personal hygienic acts such as frequent hand washing.

The flattened curve which we welcomed after the mask mandate is no longer flat. Healthcare experts, state and local, warn us that our hospitals will soon be overwhelmed if we do not reverse the current upward trend. Areas of concern particularly, though not exclusively, address staffing issues. The number of doctors, therapists, and nurses will simply be unable to meet the medical demands of the public, as regards both COVID-19 and “routine” medical needs. And, unlike a storm event, other states cannot be relied upon to provide assistance.

Moreover, we must note that our schools have also been overburdened with COVID-19 cases and/or quarantines associated therewith. As such, school systems have been compelled to reassess their re-opening and on-campus classes. The number of cases has caused absences for students, faculty, staff, and bus operators. Most school systems find it almost impossible to recruit substitute teachers.

In July, I opined in response to the Governor’s mask mandate that:

I am not totally convinced that a governmental mandate alone will stymie the spread of this infection. Last week, I made the public statement that government cannot, and should not, be the parents of the public or the ultimate guardian of its behavior. Government cannot make us do the right thing. In other words, while I have no legal (constitutional) or pragmatic quarrel with the Governor’s temporary mandate under the current circumstances, its success will ultimately be dependent on how we as citizens react to it; i.e., will there be compliance? Will there be enforcement?

In short, the point which surfaces is that the success of the mask wearing mandate REMAINS dependent on the public’s adherence to the dictate.
The bottom line remains whether mask wearing is a productive measure in helping control the spread of COVID-19. Public health experts and the medical community articulate that it is indeed an effective tool. Of course, no one is advocating that the mask wearing apply to any other non-pandemic situation or be anything but a temporary measure. Under such scenarios, such a measure would be overreach under the most basic legal precepts.

While on this particular subject, I note that I personally see no reason why we cannot open up to 100% capacity if there is mass adherence to these simple measures: social distancing, wearing of masks, and practicing basic personal hygienics such as frequent hand washing, sanitizing, etc.

I have not changed my posture. Indeed, what has occurred subsequently has buttressed my position. However, I strongly and emphatically accept what medical science defines for us, without substantial credible dissent, what steps should be adopted to abate the alarming rising spread of the virus:

  • Wear a mask
  • Social Distance
  • Follow personal hygienic recommendations such as frequent hand washing
  • Avoid large crowds, especially relative to indoor activities

This is not the time to close down, but rather to mask up and lather up while we social distance in small, controlled crowds.

These measures worked previously as we witnessed in late July, August, September, and most of October-all while we were increasing our activities and enduring several storms. There is no cogent reason they will not be and cannot be successful again.

I conclude by noting that my comments are not arbitrary conclusions. Rather, they are based on sound, medical advice which mirrors the posture of the medical professionals who we trust every day to treat us and our loved ones. This is not the time to fall prey to those who urge us to rebel simply because of ideological affiliations. The medical data on this matter is without credible opposition. I am reminded of these remarks I encountered several months ago:

“I wear a mask because if the experts are correct, I could potentially prevent someone from getting sick and dying. If the experts are wrong, the most I’m out is the inconvenience of wearing a piece of fabric on my face.”

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