BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards urged Louisiana residents to “do a real gut check” about whether they are taking enough personal precautions to lessen their coronavirus risk, as the state is showing a worrying rise in cases over the last week.
More than 4,200 new cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus have been confirmed in Louisiana since June 10, as more businesses have reopened and restrictions on activities have loosened.
State officials said increased testing capacity doesn’t explain the entire number, and only 9% of the cases came from enclosed group settings, like nursing homes.
The Acadiana, Lake Charles and central Louisiana regions are seeing rises in hospitalizations that Edwards and his chief public health adviser, Dr. Alex Billioux, called concerning. Billioux described the rise in coronavirus cases in Acadiana as “very alarming.”
“Coronavirus hasn’t left. It is still very much here with us, and it is present in every community across the state of Louisiana,” Edwards said. “And the reality is, based on these trends that we’re seeing, every Louisianan needs to do a real gut check on whether he or she has been slacking off when it comes to taking proper precautions.”
Meanwhile, while fewer new cases are emerging at nursing homes, the Edwards administration announced new regulations requiring the facilities to do regular testing of residents and staff or face sanctions from the state. Louisiana fell short of its goal to test all nursing home residents and workers by the end of May.
“It’s critical that we stay on top of this virus,” said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the state health officer.
About one-third of nursing homes don’t meet the requirements set out by the state that call for regular, repeated testing. Guidry said facilities that don’t follow the state’s testing guidelines could face restrictions on admitting new patients, civil penalties or withholding of Medicaid payments. But he said he expects the facilities will work to reach compliance.
Striking a tone of urgency for the general public, the governor called on people to wear masks, remain vigilant in handwashing and stay distant from others who aren’t in the same household. He suggested that if people walk into a business where the patrons and employees aren’t taking those precautions, they should turn around and leave.
“Just because more places are open doesn’t mean that we need to go everywhere that we can,” Edwards said. “Consider how often you need to leave your home.”
Still, Edwards said he won’t issue a mandate that Louisiana residents must wear masks. Instead, he urged people to look at face coverings as a neighborly gesture and a personal responsibility for safety.
“We’re just going to continue to appeal, and hopefully they will understand. Nobody wants to go backwards and start imposing more restrictions,” he said.
The governor’s plea for more compliance with precautionary measures came only days before Edwards is slated to decide whether to lessen restrictions on businesses further, moving Louisiana from Phase 2 to Phase 3 of reopening under the White House guidelines. Edwards is expected to announce his decision Monday.
Louisiana’s health department didn’t provide a daily update on coronavirus data Thursday, with officials saying they are trying to make sure there are no duplicate cases in the information.
Under the latest data from Wednesday, the health department said more than 48,600 cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus have been confirmed in Louisiana. Edwards said 2,957 people had died from it, with 66 new deaths reported this week.
The state says more than 37,000 people have recovered from COVID-19, and the daily increase in deaths and positive tests has dropped significantly from the height of Louisiana’s outbreak in April.
Edwards said Louisiana is “nowhere near” at risk of exceeding its hospital or ventilator capacity, as once was feared two months ago. But officials stressed they want to make sure Louisiana residents do what is needed to avoid that scenario.
“We’re seeing a rate of rise that in two weeks could make us look like Texas or could make us look like Mississippi” where cases are growing significantly, Billioux said.
For most people, the highly contagious coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.