Louisiana Gov. Edwards declares coronavirus public health emergency

Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a statewide public health emergency Wednesday as the number of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 rose to 13 in Louisiana.

The public health emergency declaration makes additional resources available to state and local government agencies, cancels travel by state employees to high-risk countries, and addresses potential price-gouging, among other measures.

The 13 “presumptive positive” cases have not yet been confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though state officials are confident of the results. “Almost all” needed to be hospitalized, said Dr. Alex Billioux with the state’s Department of Public Health.

Edwards said officials are “fairly certain” of “community spread” in Orleans Parish, meaning spread that is not related to travel. Three of the patients are residents of Lambeth House, a retirement and assisted living community in New Orleans.

Other affected parishes are Jefferson, St. Tammany, Iberia, Lafourche and Caddo, meaning the patients are either residents of one of those parishes, hospitalized in one, or both. State officials are reaching out to people who have come in contact with COVID-19 patients and asking them to quarantine themselves for two weeks as a precaution.

“We are testing almost around the clock at this point,” Billioux said.

People who don’t have symptoms, even if they have tested positive, are asked not to use health care services so as not to overwhelm providers. For most people symptoms will be mild, though the elderly and people with respiratory issues or compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of serious complications and should try to avoid crowds and unnecessary travel, officials said.

“We need people, obviously, to stay calm,” Edwards said. “The risk is still low for any individual to develop COVID-19. Obviously, the risk to the community at  large is increased beyond what it was yesterday and the day before.”

Edwards plans to meet and hold a press conference Thursday with U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who was previously scheduled to visit the state. The CDC has granted Louisiana $7.8 million to help with its coronavirus response, Sen. John Kennedy says.

Edwards and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, the state’s top tourism official, acknowledged the state would take an economic hit as the virus, and concern about public gatherings, spreads. More than 400 fairs and festivals are scheduled in the coming months, Nungesser said. He urged Louisiana residents who are healthy to “staycation here in Louisiana” to support state businesses.

A number of events planned for this weekend in the New Orleans area have been canceled. At least one major sporting event in the state, the women’s college basketball Final Four, will be played without spectators.

“The health, safety, and well-being of our public is the number one priority, period,” Edwards said.

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus. There have been more than 1,100 confirmed cases in the United States and at least 32 deaths, according to the CDC, which says 39 states including the District of Columbia have reported cases.

This is a revised article first published by The Center Square.

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