BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Concerns about stress and mental health as a result of the challenges facing the state of Louisiana amid multiple hurricanes and the coronavirus pandemic were among the topics addressed in a media briefing Thursday held by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“We know that recovering from these storms, especially doing so in a pandemic, is not just a physical challenge, it can be a mental challenge we well, and an emotional challenge,” said Edwards. “And we know that the residents of Southwest Louisiana have now suffered two devastating back-to-back storms in the middle of a public health emergency. Quite frankly, it’s more than anybody should have to bear.”
That’s why Edwards said the state will be requesting additional help from the federal government with more mental health resources. Edwards said he spoke to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on the White House Coronavirus Task Force call Tuesday about the need for a social services block grant.
“It’s important to recognize the number of stressors that I think we’re all facing right now and to be honest with ourselves about that,” said Louisiana Department of Health Region 1 Medical Director Dr. Joe Kanter.
“We’re now in our eighth month of the outbreak in Louisiana and it’s challenging, it’s a stress. And certainly, knowing people who have gotten sick or who have dealt with it or healthcare workers who certainly have very challenging jobs. We’ve had more hurricanes this season than we had names for in the alphabet this year. And there are other stressors as well. There’s an election coming up, a legislative session, economic issues. There’s a lot of things to be stressed about and I think it’s, firstly, important to take a second and acknowledge that. And after that, I think that people need to know it’s ok to feel stressed and under the gun. Not only is it okay, it is entirely natural and expected. In fact, if you didn’t feel any of that right now, that would be probably abnormal.
Kantor said he certainly feels that way on a number of days along with many of his colleagues and would guess it is the same for everyone out there.
“It’s ok to feel that way. These are unprecedented times and Louisiana, as the governor said, has had more than our fair share of hardship this year. That’s not fair, but that’s what it is. And that’s okay to feel that way. We all do.”
That isn’t to say that it’s not a good idea to get some help if you think you need it, Kantor added.
One resource he offered is the 24-hour Keep Calm Through COVID crisis phone line operated by the state’s health department. The anonymous and confidential hotline allows callers to speak with counselors at no charge. That number is 1-800-310-7977. The state also offers mental health resources for those who wish to opt in by texting REACHOUT to 741-741.
Kantor also shared an update on the latest coronavirus cases in the state, including the number of cases reported in the state’s K-12 schools. Currently, there have been a total of 496 cases reported among K-12 students and 1,063 among faculty and staff.
“Those are not numbers to ignore, but they’ve not been indicative to us of massive spread that I think some people feared and we’re very thankful for that,” Kantor said. “In general, the numbers that we’re seeing are very encouraging.”
He credits teachers and school administrators work to ensure a safe environment for students. But he warned that the cases they do see are “more often than not” tied to extracurricular activities, and emphasized that the same measures taken inside the classroom should be taken during after school activities.
He also said the “early warning system” the department of health has been working on with the Louisiana Department of Education is “going very well,” with two-thirds of the state’s schools enrolled in the reporting system so far. The system is described as a way to help schools recognize more quickly when there might be an outbreak brewing.
The Louisiana Department of Health reported 823 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 12 more deaths Thursday, bringing the cumulative number of cases statewide to 173,864 and total deaths to 5,507.
“With respect to cases, positivity, inpatients, we basically over the last couple of weeks have plateaued,” Edwards said. “We’re not in a great place, the good news is we’re not getting worse. We’re not in a surge right now as we’re seeing in many states across the country, especially those a little further north. But at the same time, our numbers haven’t been depressed down to where we’d hoped they would be at this time.”
The governor noted that the lower the numbers get, the easier it is to absorb another surge if that happens and the more time the state will have to take corrective action in order to flatten the curve again before losing the capacity to deliver sufficient healthcare.
“There is a lot of expectation in the scientific community around the country and around the world in the medical community that this winter is going to be very, very challenging all over the country and including here in Louisiana. Obviously, the key there and the reason we’re not reporting a surge at the moment is because of the mitigation measures and restrictions that are in place.”
But Edwards emphasized that this is not the time to ease up.
“As we go through time and we do better, a lot of people will say, ‘Well now that we’re doing better why don’t we shut those restrictions and get rid of those mitigation measures?’ Well, because those are the reasons why we’re doing better. And without them in place, we’re gonna do much worse and that is especially true if COVID is on the upswing around the world and around the country as it presently is.”
Edwards governor said the only way to some level of normalcy is if people observe the measures he has put in place.
“The most absurd thing is to have people saying ‘We want everything open, but we don’t want to have to any of the mitigation meaures.’ You know, that means you just don’t care! And that’s not representative of the majority of people in Louisiana. In fact, I will tell you it’s a distinct minority, but they’re so loud.”
On hurricane response, the Edwards said he met with FEMA Region 6 Administrator Tony Robinson and other officials in Lake Charles Thursday morning to discuss how to meet the financial challenges resulting from Hurricanes Delta and Laura striking the same area of the state within six weeks of each other. He also said 96% of the power outages caused by Delta had been restored and that efforts to return evacuees to their homes are underway.
The state is also in the process of bringing evacuees still in Texas from Hurricane Laura back to Louisiana. Those whose homes are still uninhabitable will be put up in hotels.
While a Major Disaster Declaration has already been requested for direct federal assistance to those in the five Southwest Louisiana parishes impacted by Hurricane Delta, the governor said additional parishes will be added once assessments are completed. Louisiana also has a declared federal Major Declaration for Hurricane Laura, which impacted many of the same communities as Hurricane Delta.