Pressure mounts as Edwards nears decision on reopenings

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks to reporters at a briefing on the state’s efforts against the coronavirus pandemic in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, May 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Republican members of Louisiana’s U.S. House delegation have urged Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to allow a phased reopening of shuttered state businesses on a regional basis, adding to the pressure on the Democratic governor to ease coronavirus -related restrictions.

Edwards’ current statewide stay-at-home order expires May 15. Edwards has said he’s “hopeful” he will be able to announce Monday that Louisiana, using White House guidelines, will move into the first phase of reopenings on May 16. And, he’s laying the groundwork for the testing and contact tracing that experts say will be needed for him to make such an announcement.

Meanwhile, Republican state legislators have started advancing legislation aimed at blocking Edwards’ enforcement of his stay-at-home order. GOP leaders have said they would shelve the measure if the governor announces Monday plans to start reopening more businesses.

Adding to the pressure have been grim economic statistics.

More than 310,000 people qualified for unemployment benefits in Louisiana as of last week, according to figures released Thursday by the state labor department. And a state Legislative Auditor’s report said the effects of the coronavirus coupled with low world oil prices could mean parish and municipal governments could lose more than $1 billion in tax and royalty revenue over two fiscal years. Economists will put a figure Monday on their first estimates of how bad the state’s tax collections have been hit, warning the economic damage from the virus and the oil price decline will exceed the financial impact of Hurricane Katrina.

Edwards has resisted calls for a regional or parish-by-parish reopening of the state. And support for such an approach has not been universal. A proposed “framework” for reopening issued last month by nearly 50 local and state business groups also discouraged such an approach citing potential challenges for “multi-jurisdictional employers.”

Since then, however, it has become clear that some regions of the state have fared better than others in stemming the spread of the disease caused by the virus. Edwards had hoped to announce that reopenings could begin May 1, but he said he declined to do so because of disappointing health data from some regions.

“Other states around the country have safely applied the same federal guidance to their statewide and local phase-in and are beginning to give their working families and small businesses a fighting chance to survive and thrive,” said the open letter released Thursday night from U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, Ralph Abraham, Mike Johnson, Garret Graves and Clay Higgins.

Health statistics have held some promising statewide trends. Although there have been more than 30,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,000 deaths — and both numbers continue to rise — the statewide hospitalization total dropped Thursday to 1,432. That number has trended downward since early April, when there were more than 2,100.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For others, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

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