As the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic enters the backstretch in Louisiana, it’s time for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to drop his stubbornness to a nuanced, balanced approach in dealing with the crisis.
One thing hasn’t changed about how the virus has struck the state is that it remains a New Orleans area problem, and to a lesser extent heading upriver to Baton Rouge. As of Sunday, Orleans had a 64:1 infection ratio (although the good news, if you can call it that, is that all but two of New York’s downstate counties had higher ratios – lead by the almost three percent in Rockland – as do two New Jersey counties) and Jefferson 77:1. Surrounding parishes St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and Lafourche were at 200:1, and heading north up the Mississippi River through St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. James, Iberville, Ascension, and West Baton Rouge, that was collectively at 136:1. Stop after St. James and those nine parishes accounted for 63 percent of state cases but only 29 percent of state population.
One thing that has changed is that curves definitely have flattened. The seven-day rolling average of infections statewide as of Sunday had slowed to a two percent increase and for deaths six percent. And some areas of the state have seen far lower infection and death rates, even in urban areas. Infection ratios ranged from 583 to 630 in Calcasieu, Lafayette, and Rapides – lower than the statewide figure (194) and also that excepting the above-listed parishes, all urban parishes, and Tangipahoa (478) – and their mortality rates per capita were less than 100 per million, compared to the statewide ratio of 279 and the “all other” parishes number of 123.
In short, sufficient rational exists to start rolling back measures that have put a vise grip on the state’s economy. Lafayette has led the way, earlier this week its Republican Mayor-President Josh Guillory taking advantage of leeway in the series of the Edwards proclamations that have attenuated significantly economic activity in the state to issue a local order empowering businesses not expressly prohibited in the Edwards orders to open back up under certain conditions.
In another way, New Orleans also has shown the needless nature of the heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all Edwards approach. There, Democrat Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued her own order essentially extending the guidelines articulated by Edwards (and her own) until May 16, which could be rescinded at any time prior to that date.
Edwards has given mixed signals and acted as coy as a debutante on whether he would extend his orders, after guidance from Republican Pres. Donald Trump’s task force on reopening state economies. He has no justification to do so. Well in advance of his Apr. 30 expiration of his latest order, if not announcing he will not extend it in any way to leave up to local officials how to deal with their different jurisdictions, he should limit any further controls to just a handful of parishes hardest hit by the virus (after negotiating with legislative leaders to ensure their chambers don’t exercise a veto over that). Any other course would abdicate of leadership in favor of murkier motives.