BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/AP) – Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that he will be extending the current Phase Two emergency order for at least two more weeks.
Edwards announced the extension in his latest briefing on Louisiana’s response to the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as the number of coronavirus patients at hospitals surges in all regions of the state.
“We still have a lot of COVID-19 in Louisiana, more than we want, and it’s widespread all across our state,” Edwards said. “This resurgence doesn’t look like it did back in April, where it was concentrated in some areas, mostly the densely populated around Orleans and Jefferson Parish and neighboring Baton Rouge and up in Shreveport, but it is widespread across the state.”
“There is no doubt we have a long way to go and the situation is very serious, especially as it relates to hospitalizations,” added Edwards.
The Democratic governor’s current regulations were set to expire Friday but will extend until at least Aug. 7. The rules limit restaurants to 50% capacity for in-person dining, restrict bars to takeout and delivery only and place occupancy limits on gyms, salons and other businesses deemed nonessential. Face coverings are required for anyone age 8 and older, with medical exceptions. Indoor gatherings above 50 people are banned.
As of Tuesday, Louisiana had tallied 96,583 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,498 deaths, according to the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
Edwards also noted the total number of confirmed cases adds up to 2.08 percent of the state’s population, making the state #2 in the U.S. for cases per capita behind only New York state at 2.1%.
There are 1,527 people currently hospitalized for the coronavirus, which Edwards noted is the most the state has seen since May 3.
Alex Billioux, the governor’s top public health adviser, said hospital capacities are becoming more strained, with some hospitals having to send patients to other facilities because they don’t have the space to treat them.
“We’ve now clearly turned a corner in the wrong direction,” Billioux said.
Watch the full briefing below.
Edwards had previously extended the Phase Two order for another 28 days on June 25 as new cases and hospitalizations were beginning to increase again across the state.
Since then, hospitalizations have only continued to climb. Dr. Alex Billioux with the Louisiana Department of Health said the state is seeing hospital capacities becoming more and more strained and while COVID patients are driving that trend, they are also seeing more people coming in needing treatment for other illnesses they may have put off for too long because of the pandemic.
Edwards confirmed Tuesday that the state has applied for help from FEMA to bring in additional medical personnel if needed, as hospitals have expressed concern about staffing as hospitalizations continue to rise. The request is pending, according to Edwards, and the state is also looking at contracting to bring in more medical workers.
“It is my hope and my expectation that we will not have to go backwards,” said Edwards. “But we’ll do what we have to do to deliver life-saving care in our hospitals.”
Whether the state goes back into tighter restrictions under a Phase One or even another stay-at-home order will depend on the trajectory of key data over the next two weeks, but Edwards pointed to modeling he said was mentioned several times last week by Dr. Deborah Birx, who serves on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, showing that masks can make a difference in slowing the spread of the virus.
“We don’t have to go back to Phase One and Phase Zero in order to flatten the curve again and see fewer cases, fewer hospitalizations, ultimately fewer deaths,” Edwards said. “We can get to an R0 of less than one if will wear a mask, everybody, wears a mask. That’s why we have a mandate.”
The governor’s announcement of continued restrictions is certain to stoke continuing debate about conservative House Republicans’ push to revoke Edwards’ public health emergency declaration, an effort that Louisiana hospital leaders are warning will hamper their ability to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
The Louisiana Hospital Association is joining GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder in trying to discourage Republican lawmakers from signing a petition removing Louisiana’s state of emergency and nullifying the Democratic governor’s orders restricting activity to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The petition requires support from a majority of the House or Senate.
Supporters say Edwards has overstepped his authority by issuing a statewide mask mandate and is crippling the economy with his business restrictions. The hospital association and other opponents of the petition effort describe damaging consequences if Louisiana becomes the only state in the nation without an emergency declaration amid a pandemic that added another 36 people to the state’s death toll Tuesday.
“The ability of hospitals to continue to provide critical healthcare services in communities across this state will be significantly limited if this petition receives the support of a majority of the House of Representatives,” the association wrote to hospital officials across the state.
The emergency declaration allowed the waiver of certain regulations, giving hospitals and other health facilities more flexibility to easily bring in nurses and doctors from other states, expand telemedicine services and quickly increase bed capacity, the hospital organization said. Removing Edwards’ emergency orders would strip that flexibility and cost Louisiana some federal resources, the hospital association said.
The message, sent by email Friday, encourages hospital executives to contact House lawmakers and “help educate them about the importance of this emergency declaration and what may be jeopardized if it were rescinded.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.