Edwards says federal government will help state ramp up testing

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

The federal government has agreed to support Louisiana’s effort to ramp up COVID-19 testing to 200,000 tests per month, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday.

A little more than 150,000 tests have been performed in the state so far, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. Louisiana is among the nation’s leaders in tests conducted per capita.

The state has enough lab testing capacity, Edwards says, but tracking down enough testing kits has proven difficult. The federal government intends to begin providing the state with a weekly allocation of tests that will increase over time, he said.

Initial target areas for expanded testing will include senior centers and prisons.

At least 1,758 Louisiana residents have been killed by COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, state health officials say, along with another 43 “probable” COVID deaths.

More than 27,000 cases have been reported. Of those, more than 17,000 are “presumed recovered.”

Edwards on Monday announced he would extend most aspects of his “stay at home” order, which closes some businesses and limits others, until May 15. While case counts and hospitalizations are decreasing in much of the state, that’s not the case in the Baton Rouge, Monroe and Acadiana regions, officials said.

“Striking the right balance [between economic recovery and public health] is difficult,” Edwards said. But reopening too much too quickly could lead to a spike in cases followed by shutting things down again, he said.

Some elected officials are calling for Edwards to allow for the expansion of commerce on a regional or parish-by-parish basis.

“COVID-19’s impact on Louisiana is affecting each of our parishes and regions differently,” says a petition circulated by state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican. “We believe the meaningful reopening of our state’s economy should reflect that.”

Edwards said Tuesday he continues to hope the federal government revises the rules on federal aid given to the states – Louisiana’s share is $1.8 billion – meant to pay for the public health-related expenses of fighting COVID-19.

The money flows through state government and 45 percent is supposed to be shared with local governments. But Edwards says local governments aren’t accumulating health care-related expenses but are suffering from lack of tax revenue.