Edwards says Louisiana on track to open up more commerce

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana is about halfway through the 14-day period of encouraging COVID-19-related statistics that would allow it to begin loosening business restrictions under federal guidelines, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday.

Edwards’ current “stay at home” order expires April 30, which is Thursday of next week, though some restrictions will be extended into May. Edwards said he expected to begin announcing details of his next order at the beginning of next week.

The numbers state officials are watching involve infection rates, health care system capacity and other factors. A one-day setback doesn’t necessarily reset the 14-day wait. What’s needed is a clear trend, Edwards said.

Officials on Wednesday announced about 400 new COVID-19 cases and decreases in the number of people hospitalized and on ventilators. More than 25,000 cases have been reported in the state and at least 1,473 people have died from the illness, officials said.

Edwards said he has directed the state Department of Revenue to temporarily stop collecting severance taxes from energy production. The oil and gas industry faces record-low prices caused by a production glut and lower demand due to the pandemic-weakened world economy and travel restrictions.

The commission Edwards established to help state officials figure out when and how to reopen sectors of the economy that currently are shut down held their first meetings Wednesday. The two meetings were held by conference call but otherwise were run like typical public meetings.

“We’re looking for quick wins and long-term innovation,” commission co-chair Terrie Sterling said.

Edwards asked business leaders on the commission to pass along best practices being used by their industries and to help him “manage expectations” so people understand that while some restrictions are being lifted, things likely won’t be completely back to normal any time soon.

“COVID-19 is a marathon; it is not a sprint” until a vaccine is available, he said. “We’re all in this together.”

Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Alex Billioux said public health officials approach increasing commerce amid the pandemic with “trepidation.” Business sectors will be reopened in a “slow but steady fashion,” in hopes of not reopening only to close again if COVID-19 cases spike, he said.

Louisiana now is fifth nationally in confirmed COVID-19 cases per capita, after being third for weeks, Edwards said. He urged Louisiana residents to wear cloth masks in public to protect each other, but said gloves are not recommended because the virus can live longer on gloves than on hands.

“I’m calling on Louisiana to mask up,” Edwards said.