NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Orders closing many Louisiana businesses and keeping people home to slow the spread of COVID-19 ‘may well’ have to be extended past April 13, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday.
He spoke as the numbers of Louisiana residents falling ill and dying from the new coronavirus continued to rise and as a large church near Baton Rouge continued to flout a statewide ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. And New Orleans’ police chief said the department has received hundreds of complaints about gatherings.
Texas, which said Friday that anyone flying from New Orleans to Texas would have to self-quarantine for two weeks, tightened down further on Louisiana. Gov. Greg Abbott said state troopers will patrol highways on the Louisiana state line and require “everyone stopped” to self-isolate, with drivers filling out a form to state where in Texas they will do so. It wasn’t immediately clear how aggressive those patrols would be.
Edwards and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell spoke to reporters at a briefing that was live streamed from outside the city’s convention center, which is being transformed into a 1,000-bed hospital.
That hospital, for recovering patients who no longer need ventilators or intensive care, will open by April 5, as will a nearby 250-bed center for some people awaiting test results, Edwards said. They won’t be walk-in and won’t allow visitors, he said.
The highly contagious virus that causes COVID-19 generally brings on mild or no symptoms but can cause serious illness. Nearly a third of the 3,500 people diagnosed in Louisiana are hospitalized, and about one-third of those patients — 380 on Sunday — need ventilators, state data show.
Edwards said that he has asked for 5,000 ventilators from the federal stockpile and ordered 7,000 from suppliers over the past several weeks. He has received 192.
“We are looking at every breathing device” that might possibly be used with patients who have trouble breathing on their own, he said.
More than 150 patients have died in Louisiana. Edwards noted that they include 33-year-old April Dunn of his Office of Disability Affairs. The death toll also included the first federal prison inmate — a man with “serious preexisting conditions” who was being held in Oakdale, Lousiana, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said Saturday.
Cases have been identified in nearly all of Louisiana’s 64 parishes. The five exceptions are all rural.
The number of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities with at least two apparently related cases has rose from 11 on Saturday to 20 on Sunday, the state Department of Health reported.
In Central, a city of nearly 29,000 outside Baton Rouge, an estimated 500 people entered Life Tabernacle for the first of three Sunday services.
“Other congregations are using the Internet, Skype, and other safe ways to congregate. Why can’t they? What makes them so special?” said Paul Quinn, who lives nearby.
He said it’s more than city police can handle, and state police should enforce the ban. Neither Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran nor a spokesman for Louisiana State Police responded immediately to requests for comment.
Members of the congregation are posing a serious health hazard, Quinn said, adding “They don’t know how many people they’re affecting, and they don’t seem to care.”
Timothy Spell, father of Pastor Tony Spell, said Life Tabernacle has a right to assembly, is not forcing anyone to attend services, is not breaking any laws and will continue to hold services at the church.
Flagrant disregard of statewide social distancing measures is selfish and “grossly irresponsible,” Edwards said.