WBRZ https://www.wbrz.com/ WBRZ On Your Side On Your Side en-us Copyright 2020, WBRZ. All Rights Reserved. Feed content is not avaialble for commercial use. () () Tue, 7 Jul 2020 HH:07:ss GMT Synapse CMS 10 WBRZ https://www.wbrz.com/ 144 25 State urges people to 'mask up' as virus numbers increase https://www.wbrz.com/news/state-urges-people-to-mask-up-as-virus-numbers-increase/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/state-urges-people-to-mask-up-as-virus-numbers-increase/ On Your Side Mon, 22 Jun 2020 5:25:55 PM Brittany Weiss State urges people to 'mask up' as virus numbers increase

BATON ROUGE - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to release new guidance when it comes to wearing a mask. It still recommends wearing a cloth face covering, because the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity, even from people who aren't showing symptoms.

Health officials say wearing a mask is a key to slowing the spread of the coronavirus. During his afternoon news conference and while wearing his new Father's Day gift - a mask - Governor John Bel Edwards reminded Louisiana residents about the guidance to slow the spread.

"We need to do a better job of wearing masks when we're not in our home," he said. "I would ask young people, old people, people in the middle, everybody, to wear your mask."

The governor said there's still concern that many people aren't adhering to the guidelines, which include masking up, staying six feet apart, and washing your hands often.

"There have been new community-spread cases that can be traced back to bars including popular areas like Tigerland near LSU, as well as high school graduations in New Orleans and elsewhere," Edwards said.

While some states and countries have made masks a requirement, masks remain a strong suggestion in Louisiana. Although employees who have contact with the public are required to wear face masks or face coverings. Businesses are encouraged to require their customers to wear masks.

One of the major concerns and reasons for the stay-at-home order was to slow the spread and keep hospital numbers low. The hospital numbers have been slowly going down, but Monday, saw the largest recent increase. Our Lady of the Lake Chief Medical Officer Dr. Catherine O'Neal says wearing a mask isn't about you, it's about others with whom you come in contact.

"Most people are healthy people, who are not going to have a lot of symptoms, so we're going to continue to go to work and go to parties and baby showers and they may be ill,"  O'Neal said. "Wearing that mask protects everybody else around you from the possibility that you could be spreading COVID-19."

While many people have adapted to taking a mask with them when they leave the house, others seem to be against the state and CDC guidelines. O'Neal says she hopes people who don't believe in wearing a mask will change their minds.

"You wear a mask to protect the shoppers nearby you, the people who you're hanging out with, and - most importantly - the people who you're hanging out with, you're protecting their parents and their grandparents," she said.

The CDC says it's planning to release an update on its recommendation regarding face masks.

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Residents awaiting traffic circle in Gonzales will be waiting longer than originally discussed https://www.wbrz.com/news/residents-awaiting-traffic-circle-in-gonzales-will-be-waiting-longer-than-originally-discussed/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/residents-awaiting-traffic-circle-in-gonzales-will-be-waiting-longer-than-originally-discussed/ On Your Side Thu, 18 Jun 2020 5:01:56 PM Brittany Weiss Residents awaiting traffic circle in Gonzales will be waiting longer than originally discussed

GONZALES - Drivers in Ascension Parish are hoping for some relief in the form of a traffic circle. The only problem is the traffic circle hasn't been built yet.

Thursday, residents fighting for that traffic relief learned that the project might be further off than they were originally told. In November 2019, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development told WBRZ the project would go out for bid this year. It appears that's not the case and the project will most likely go out for bid in April 2021, pushing that long-awaited project off even further.

"We need safety now," Krista Pickering said.

Residents living along Loosemore Road say making a left hand turn out of the neighborhood onto Highway 44 is like risking their life, every time.

"Oftentimes you're just punching the gas and taking your life in your hands," Catherine Bergeron said.

Residents are hoping that a long-awaited traffic circle just south of their intersection will finally be built. They originally asked for a stoplight at the intersection, but it was not approved. A traffic circle to the north of Loosemore Road has already been finished. It filters cars between new neighborhoods and along Highway 44.

With additional traffic from two new developments along Highway 44, residents making that left hand turn say they need change.

"It's for our safety. It's for the safety of our kids. It's for the safety of everybody traveling Highway 44," Bergeron said.

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Fences in servitude removed by parish to cut ditch, residents must pay to put them back https://www.wbrz.com/news/fences-in-servitude-removed-by-parish-to-cut-ditch-residents-must-pay-to-put-them-back/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/fences-in-servitude-removed-by-parish-to-cut-ditch-residents-must-pay-to-put-them-back/ On Your Side Mon, 15 Jun 2020 5:38:10 PM Brittany Weiss Fences in servitude removed by parish to cut ditch, residents must pay to put them back

DENHAM SPRINGS - Last year, the Livingston Parish Department of Public Works said it would be tearing down fences in Arbor Walk, if the neighbors didn't move them out of the servitude. The neighborhood's HOA, Community Management, LLC, sent out a final notice on June 10 saying homeowners not in compliance would have their fences removed.

The parish showed up with machinery Monday morning and got to work. It says it's removing the fences of 29 properties.

"We got with the Homeowner's Association, we had two separate meetings to try to inform the people in here that we needed the extra room to maintain these ditches and keep the grass down," DPW Assistant Director Huey Comeaux said. "We sent letters. We're here today and we still have some that haven't been moved."

Arbor Walk HOA stopped maintaining the drainage ditches last year, telling homeowners it was parish property. When the parish took over maintaining the drainage area from the HOA, the crew found that some residents built their fences in the servitude. To properly clear the ditches, the parish will use a long boom tractor on a Kubota. The boom has a large blade on the end that reaches into the ditch to trim debris. The parish says the ditches are too large to maintain any other way, and removing the fences is the only way it can get between the properties.

Some homeowners have already moved their fences where surveyors recently told them to move them. Others say they don't want anyone touching their fence.

"When we bought the house, the fence was already here," Kayla Forsythe said. "The owners before us had to put in an application to have the fence put up, and it was approved by the Homeowner's Association and been standing since."

Forsythe wants to know who was responsible for approving the fence, now that she knows she's one of 29 properties on the fence tear-down list. Surveyors say she has to move her fence three feet closer to her house.

"This is insane, I know people who have things up against their fence line that they've had there for years," she said. "This neighborhood isn't old, it's not the newest area at least. I know some of these fences have been up here for three to four years."

Residents who have had their fences removed by the parish will not be charged. They will be responsible for reinstalling their fence in the correct spot.

Previously, the parish said it would cut the ditch once, and it would be up to the property owner to maintain. Monday, the parish said it will be maintaining the ditch moving forward.

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Students encouraged to fill out TOPS information, ACT deadline change https://www.wbrz.com/news/students-encouraged-to-fill-out-tops-information-act-deadline-change/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/students-encouraged-to-fill-out-tops-information-act-deadline-change/ On Your Side Thu, 11 Jun 2020 5:45:37 PM Brittany Weiss Students encouraged to fill out TOPS information, ACT deadline change

BATON ROUGE - First-year college students are being asked to get their TOPS paperwork in order, now.

The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) has started processing 2020 high school graduates for TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students) eligibility. Students are being asked to set up their Hub account to track their TOPS status and complete the free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA, the primary application for TOPS. The state's priority deadline is July 1.

So far, for the fall semester, Dr. Sujuan Boutte with LOSFA says filing numbers are low.

"We're seeing less people filing the FAFSA right now, we're at about 71.5 percent of the incoming students. Last year we were in the higher 70s," Boutte said.

There's been a change this year for students taking the ACT. Testing dates were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Boutte says students will not receive a semester penalty for having taken the ACT later than the April deadline. The new date to submit an additional ACT score is Sept. 1, 2020. LOSFA will re-process students for eligibility if higher scores are received.

LOSFA notes one of the biggest delays in TOPS processing is using different names on documents. A full legal name must be used on all documents and applications.

TOPS eligibility is based on the TOPS Core Curriculum GPA, not the overall GPA. Students need at least a 2.50 GPA to be TOPS eligible, and a GPA is not rounded up.

To receive virtual assistance from LOSFA staff, click here.

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Proposed police reform study called racist, Floyd reference removed https://www.wbrz.com/news/proposed-police-reform-study-called-racist-floyd-reference-removed/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/proposed-police-reform-study-called-racist-floyd-reference-removed/ On Your Side Wed, 10 Jun 2020 5:37:33 PM Brittany Weiss Proposed police reform study called racist, Floyd reference removed

BATON ROUGE - A resolution passed in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday that sets up a review of law enforcement and policing. The resolution asks to assemble a study group to take a look at law enforcement and ensure fairness and justice are being practiced. 

It's something Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) says he's been thinking about doing since 2016. And with the recent death of George Floyd, he says now is the time to put legislation in writing.

"There's so much we can do in terms of addressing the systemic problems of racism over policing, excessive force in law enforcement," James said.

The study would look at law enforcement training by department.

"We've got to make sure that we have uniform use of force policies throughout all of our departments. You know, BRPD could be doing one thing but that doesn't mean it's happening in Carencro," James said.

At the committee meeting, James said not all members were comfortable with the language used in the original resolution, which addressed the death of George Floyd and "the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers."

Instead, multiple representatives spoke out to remove that portion of the resolution, saying it was "offensive."

"I've never seen a more racist document than the one you brought, because we don't feel that way here," said Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Bossier).

After discussion, a portion of the resolution was deleted and amended to be race and gender-neutral.

The study group would be made up of various legislators, stakeholders, and law enforcement. James says he's focused on getting to the work.

"The death of George Floyd and the anger and the energy you see not just in Baton Rouge but across our country, I don't want that to die down. So we need to start doing the work now," he said.

The measure will be debated next. A similar resolution by Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge) is being discussed in the Senate.

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Beauty school abruptly closes doors, students left wondering what's next https://www.wbrz.com/news/beauty-school-abruptly-closes-doors-students-left-wondering-what-s-next/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/beauty-school-abruptly-closes-doors-students-left-wondering-what-s-next/ On Your Side Tue, 9 Jun 2020 4:59:43 PM Brittany Weiss Beauty school abruptly closes doors, students left wondering what's next

BATON ROUGE - A beauty school has suddenly closed its doors, blaming the coronavirus, and students are left wondering what's next.

Students say D’Jay’s Institute of Cosmetology and Esthiology school off of Sharp Lane in Baton Rouge was supposed to reopen when the stay-at-home order was lifted. Instead, they received word that it was permanently closing.

Chrystal Cavalier contacted WBRZ after she learned the school closed. She started the esthiology program in October 2019 and was planning to receive her certifications in July.

"Everyone was shocked, because we were under the impression that we would be going back," Cavalier said.

At the start of the stay-at-home order, students had been using an app to take their classes online, but Cavalier says that stopped in April. It wasn't until the first week of June that she received notice the school was closed and not reopening.

A letter posted to the school's window and online, says the school is closing as of June 1, 2020, due to "the conditions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed." In the letter, it also says the school feels it will not be able to provide the level of education it's known for.

"We've all been trying to reach out to them because D'Jay's is more expensive compared to other schools, because they offer certifications that other schools don't. So the tuition is $14,000," Cavalier said. "I emailed them because I was like, 'okay, I'd like the money back for certifications that I did not receive.'"

So far, Cavalier says she hasn't heard back from D'Jay's.

The Louisiana Board of Cosmetology says it received a fax from the school last week, letting them know it closed. The board says when a school closes it has to make sure students can transfer to another school close by, with not a lot of cost involved so they can finish their courses.

"As far as the certifications, I feel like everyone should be reimbursed for that,"  Cavalier said.

The board says it's looking into whether the school is issuing refunds to the students, which is something that's generally done before a school closes. The board says it will be communicating with the students of D'Jay's.

"The board will make sure the students are treated correctly, and we're going to do everything in our power to see that that happens,"  Executive Director of the Board of Cosmetology Steve Young said.

Tuesday, WBRZ reached out to D'Jay's Institute of Cosmetology and Esthiology and did not hear back.

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More than 522,000 Louisianians have received unemployment benefits since pandemic started https://www.wbrz.com/news/more-than-522-000-louisianians-have-received-unemployment-benefits-since-pandemic-started/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/more-than-522-000-louisianians-have-received-unemployment-benefits-since-pandemic-started/ On Your Side Fri, 5 Jun 2020 5:27:29 PM Brittany Weiss More than 522,000 Louisianians have received unemployment benefits since pandemic started

BATON ROUGE - The U.S. jobless rate dropped to 13.3 percent in May, down from a record high in April. As the state moves into Phase Two of reopening, the Louisiana Workforce Commission says the unemployment numbers are also down in Louisiana, but new claims are still being made.

"In the initial claims, it's been fairly substantial. It's fallen by about 10,000 a week," Assistant Secretary of Unemployment Insurance Robert Wooley said.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission says it's paid $2.5 billion to over 522,000 Louisiana residents who filed for unemployment from March 21 to now. While more businesses are welcoming back employees, the work search requirement has not been reinstated and the LWC says it could be extended.

"Because there isn't a true available job market at this point," Wooley said.

As the LWC continues to navigate record unemployment claims, it's added another role to the mix. The LWC is working to adjudicate claims from employers who say employees are not returning to work. A form on the state's website says employees must file a claim, and in return the employee must explain to the LWC why they're choosing not to return to work. Each case is being looked into.

"That's our new challenge, we have to train adjudicators," Wooley said. "The employee may have a legitimate reason for refusing work. It's not cut and dry. Each side gives a reason and we adjudicate each one."

The LWC call center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Hold times remain significant.

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Baby finally approved for life-saving drug, 2 months before deadline https://www.wbrz.com/news/baby-finally-approved-for-life-saving-drug-2-months-before-deadline/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/baby-finally-approved-for-life-saving-drug-2-months-before-deadline/ On Your Side Mon, 1 Jun 2020 5:39:58 PM Brittany Weiss Baby finally approved for life-saving drug, 2 months before deadline

BATON ROUGE - A family that's been fighting for access to a potentially life-saving drug received word that their access has been granted.

Axel Dennis was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1 at five weeks old. SMA is a disease that affects muscle movement. In 2019, the FDA approved Zolgensma for children with SMA under the age of 2. The one-time infusion halts the disease in its tracks. While it's being praised as a potentially life-saving infusion, it's also been known as the most expensive drug in the world at more than $2 million for a single dose.

Axel's Louisiana Medicaid has refused to cover the cost twice, until last week.

"I was able to tell him you don't have to sleep in the hospital anymore," mom Andrea James said.

In a previous treatment denial letter, it said Axel did not meet certain criteria to receive the dose. James says it's because he has a trach tube, which is used to help expand Axel's lungs. The reason for his trach tube is unrelated to his SMA diagnosis.

After months of back and forth, lawyers, a State Fair hearing, and a judge's decision, it was up to the Louisiana Department of Health to reject, modify, or approve the decision. James heard the news Thursday that the treatment had been approved.

"I'm just excited to see what he can do," James said.

It's been a race against time, as Axel's 2nd birthday is July 26 and he'll be about 23 months old by the time he receives the infusion. Axel and his mom were in New Orleans Monday, at the Children's Hospital, receiving initial blood work.

While Axel's family fought for Zolgensma for more than a year, he was being treated with Spinraza. Spinraza, approved by the FDA in 2016, is administered every four months through spinal injection. Each time, Axel must go under anesthesia to receive the treatment. It can be traumatizing.

"The only thing I think of is just how much better his life is going to be," James said. "Even if it's the same results and or a little bit better, but we don't have to deal with anesthesia and spinal taps three times a year for the rest of his life"

James is looking forward to seeing her son smile again, an ability he lost months ago. With the result they finally received, James is telling others to continue their fight and not give up.

"You can't give up," she said. "It makes me sad when I do see parents give up because it's too much. It's not too much. It's not too hard. When it's for your own kid, it's not a fight at all it's just what you're supposed to do."

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Don't be too quick to toss that junk mail - millions of stimulus payments mailed in form of debit cards https://www.wbrz.com/news/don-t-be-too-quick-to-toss-that-junk-mail-millions-of-stimulus-payments-mailed-in-form-of-debit-cards/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/don-t-be-too-quick-to-toss-that-junk-mail-millions-of-stimulus-payments-mailed-in-form-of-debit-cards/ On Your Side Thu, 28 May 2020 4:35:36 PM Brittany Weiss Don't be too quick to toss that junk mail - millions of stimulus payments mailed in form of debit cards

BATON ROUGE - Don't be too quick to throw away that junk mail, it could be your stimulus money.

Nearly 4 million people are being sent their Economic Impact Payment in the form of a prepaid debit card. The debit card will come in a plain white envelope with a return address from Money Network Cardholder Services, MetaBank in Omaha, NE. Inside will be a Visa debit card with the card holder's name on it, instructions on how to activate that card, and a piece of paper that says, "enclosed is your Economic Impact Payment card."

The cards started showing up in mailboxes last week, unbeknownst to quite a few people who were surprised to see a debit card instead of a check.

"People are getting them and throwing them away," AARP Louisiana State President Bobby Savoie said."But it's a real thing. It's a real credit card."

The return address just might be the key to recognizing whether or not it's legitimate. Some people have reported the cards as fraudulent or scams, or have been reluctant to activate them because personal information is required to validate your identity. To activate the card, the cardholder must verify their name, address, and the last six digits of their social security number.

Those who receive their Economic Impact Payment by prepaid debit card can do the following without any fees.

  • Make purchases online and at any retail location where Visa is accepted
  • Get cash from in-network ATMs
  • Transfer funds to their personal bank account
  • Check their card balance online, by mobile app or by phone

If you’ve destroyed or thrown out your EIP card, call the toll-free customer service line at 800-240-8100 (TTY: 800-241-9100) to ask for a replacement. You can find additional information at the official EIP website.

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Woman receives someone else's stimulus money, wants to return to right person https://www.wbrz.com/news/woman-receives-someone-else-s-stimulus-money-wants-to-return-to-right-person/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/woman-receives-someone-else-s-stimulus-money-wants-to-return-to-right-person/ On Your Side Fri, 22 May 2020 5:00:20 PM Brittany Weiss Woman receives someone else's stimulus money, wants to return to right person

BATON ROUGE - As some people are still waiting for their stimulus checks to make it to them, one woman got her piece of mail but it isn't hers to spend.

Aynn Murray was excited as she opened her mail Thursday. Her stimulus money finally arrived, or so she thought.

"When I opened it there was a debit card," Murray said. "It wasn't mine."

The debit card came ready to use to her address with a notice that reads, "enclosed is your economic impact payment card." Murray assumed it was hers and opened the envelope.

It wasn't until she looked at the debit card did she notice it had someone else's name on there.

"It had my address but not my name," she said.

Murray started making calls for guidance on what she should do with that card.

"I don't know what to do with it, but I would like for the lady to have her card," she said. "She may be like me and need it."

Murray contacted 2 On Your Side Friday afternoon and said the card belongs to the person who lived in her house before she did. She's working to track down the woman who was meant to receive the card to get her that stimulus money.

Meanwhile, Murray is still waiting for hers.

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Some heart, stroke patients not seeking care due to fear of COVID-19 https://www.wbrz.com/news/some-heart-stroke-patients-not-seeking-care-due-to-fear-of-covid-19/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/some-heart-stroke-patients-not-seeking-care-due-to-fear-of-covid-19/ On Your Side Thu, 21 May 2020 6:15:28 PM Brittany Weiss Some heart, stroke patients not seeking care due to fear of COVID-19

BATON ROUGE - New data suggests that people are so afraid of getting the coronavirus they're not seeking the care they need right now.

Over the last two months there has been a decrease in heart attack and stroke patients at hospitals. Baton Rouge General Medical Director of Emergency Medicine Dr. Johnny Jones says that's not a good thing.

"I think people are scared to come in because of the COVID crisis but often ignoring the symptoms that they're having," Jones said.

The numbers reflect a drastic change. For April 2020, compared to April 2019, BRG is reporting a 39-percent decrease in heart attack patients and a 21-percent decrease in stroke patients. Overall visits to the ER are down about 46-percent. Jones says instead of those patients coming to the ER to seek care, they're suffering at home.

"The sad thing is a certain percentage of them are dying at home, but I think the larger percentage of people that have ignored the symptoms are getting through the initial symptom of chest pain or slurred speech and then developing complications down the line," he said.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner says March 1, 2020 to May 21, 2020, there have been 1,045 natural deaths. Of those, 239 are linked to COVID-19, and 806 are other natural causes. From March 1, 2019 to May 21, 2019, there were 682 natural deaths in EBR parish.

Acadian Ambulance says it's reporting a greater number of patients refusing transport to hospitals for needed care.

"We got to try to talk them into being transported and a lot of them just refuse and get out of our units who don't want to be transported," Chief Medical Officer of Acadian Companies Chuck Burnell said.

Since the start of the pandemic, Acadian has seen an 18-percent increase in patients refusing to go to the hospital after they have been advised to do so. Medics say it's because the patients fear becoming infected with COVID-19.

Instead patients request to be taken to doctors' offices, which are not equipped to handle emergencies. Other patients aren't even calling for help.

"One of the things that we've noticed that is most concerning, what we call our DOA or 'dead on arrival' or 'dead on scene' criteria, that number has gone up. And this is not just unique to Louisiana. This has been a nation-wide trend in a lot of EMS services," Burnell said.

Hospitals and medics have changed their procedures and adapted to the coronavirus, offering masks and performing temperature checks. Hospitals have separate areas for COVID-19 patients to offer the best possible care for everyone.

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Illegal dumping remains priority for City-Parish, maintenance department takes on new tasks https://www.wbrz.com/news/illegal-dumping-remains-priority-for-city-parish-maintenance-department-takes-on-new-tasks/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/illegal-dumping-remains-priority-for-city-parish-maintenance-department-takes-on-new-tasks/ On Your Side Wed, 20 May 2020 5:39:28 PM Brittany Weiss Illegal dumping remains priority for City-Parish, maintenance department takes on new tasks

BATON ROUGE - Illegal dumping is nothing new to East Baton Rouge Parish, but there's one spot on Florida Blvd. that at least one local would love to see cleaned up.

"This has been going on forever, really," local Craig Moates said. "This has always been a spot for people to dump things."

Moates owns property in the 17000 block of Florida Blvd. A pile of discarded furniture, tires, lumber, and other items are often the first thing people see as they enter the parish.

"We're trying really hard to clean up what we can and keep this area from falling to blight and such," Moates said. "It's hard to keep up with the way these dumpers have really intensified things."

He recently caught someone in the act trying to unload landscaping debris. Moates says he approached the person and asked him if it was his land. It wasn't.

While people continue to dump debris, Moates has put up a white makeshift cross to mark the old from the new. He has called the City-Parish, who told him the debris would be picked up in February.

The City-Parish says the illegal dumping remains a priority and the maintenance department will remove the debris as soon as it's able to, but recently, it's taken on various coronavirus-related tasks which have taken precedent.

The City-Parish Maintenance Department has been assisting with delivering sanitation supplies, PPE, and water to various public and non-profit agencies during the pandemic. The Maintenance Department has assisted in standing up the two COVID-19 MOHSEP testing sites and are currently hanging flags on the levee for Memorial Day. The additional duties have been taken on while the City-Parish says it continues to clean drainage, cut grass, and fill potholes.

The City-Parish currently has six blight cameras in use to catch people in-the-act of dumping illegally. It's hoping to collect pictures from those cameras soon.

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Fraudulent charge shows up same day shopping membership is deactivated https://www.wbrz.com/news/fraudulent-charge-shows-up-same-day-shopping-membership-is-deactivated/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/fraudulent-charge-shows-up-same-day-shopping-membership-is-deactivated/ On Your Side Tue, 19 May 2020 5:55:56 PM Brittany Weiss Fraudulent charge shows up same day shopping membership is deactivated

BATON ROUGE - A man found a bogus charge on his bank statement and soon realized he wasn't alone.

"It sounded like I wasn't the only person this had happened to," Jody Cataldo said.

Over the years, Cataldo says he's rarely used his Sam's Club membership, but after hopping online to shop for new tires he found that he was unable to access prices.

"It wouldn't give me prices because it said I wasn't a member," Cataldo said.

His membership had expired on March 21, 2020, the same day a $49.25 charge showed up on his bank statement. At first, he thought it was his Sam's Club auto-renewal fee. The $49.25 charge was noted as SAMS MEMBERSHIP 800-288-7787 AR.

Cataldo decided to call Sam's Club to ask them to explain.

"I talked to several different people and I kept getting the same answer, they had no record of any transaction other than my account was canceled," he said.

He took another look at the charge and decided to plug the notation into a search engine.

"Apparently several other people had been charged a very similar amount, it wasn't always the same exact amount. But I didn't find thousands of people, it was just a handful of people," he said.

Cataldo also called the 800-number associated with the charge. It rang to a call center that is not associated with Sam's Club or any other company. That's when he called 2 On Your Side, who contacted Sam's, which contacted Cataldo.

"I told him I really just wanted him to look into it and make sure this isn't happening to a bunch of other people," he said.

Sam's Club tells 2 On Your Side it is investigating but says it hasn't received any similar reports. Sam's Club says, "the phone number connected with the charge is clearly a scam and is not related to Sam’s Club. We are looking into our systems to determine what happened and will take corrective actions."

Cataldo also contacted his bank, which reimbursed the money while it's investigating the charge for fraud.

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House floods for fifth time, elevation project approved https://www.wbrz.com/news/house-floods-for-fifth-time-elevation-project-approved/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/house-floods-for-fifth-time-elevation-project-approved/ On Your Side Fri, 15 May 2020 5:32:21 PM Brittany Weiss House floods for fifth time, elevation project approved

GONZALES - A homeowner in Ascension Parish was busy cleaning his house Friday after it took on water yet again. Lawrence Perkins says it's the fifth time he's flooded.

"Yes, I'm tired of it. Yes indeed," he said. "I put my foot down and I stepped in water."

Perkins first called 2 On Your Side in January this year. Then, he was waiting to hear back about his application for federal assistance to elevate his home. Friday, 2 On Your Side spoke to him again after he woke up to water in his house. WBRZ spoke with Perkins over Skype because he recently tested positive for the coronavirus. He's on the mend but says waking up to a flooded house is the last thing he needs.

"I was trying to get over that, but something's trying to set me back," he said. "That water and stuff, I'm not going to be able to stay in there like that."

Friday afternoon, 2 On Your Side learned that the federal assistance Perkins applied for in 2017 has been approved. The Flood Mitigation Assistance Program, which will elevate 10 homes in Ascension Parish, was approved on March 26, 2020.

Ascension Parish says it's been in contact with Perkins and the project is progressing.

Perkins hopes that progress happens before another heavy rain.

"I just hope somebody would take the time and do something because this is ridiculous," he said.

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Louisiana unemployment compensation topping $1.4 billion https://www.wbrz.com/news/louisiana-unemployment-compensation-topping-1-4-billion/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/louisiana-unemployment-compensation-topping-1-4-billion/ On Your Side Thu, 14 May 2020 5:28:05 PM Brittany Weiss Louisiana unemployment compensation topping $1.4 billion

BATON ROUGE - Unemployment and the tidal wave of people filing for benefits was a discussion at the Capitol Thursday.

Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Dejoie was there discussing updates and changes to unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic. Monday, the pandemic emergency unemployment compensation started. People who have exhausted their 26 weeks of compensation will now have an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Dejoie says from March 21 through May 21, LWC has paid $1.4 billion to over 400,000 Louisiana residents who have filed for unemployment.

"Of course, we get more every day," she said.

As more businesses open, more people will be going back to work. Dejoie mentioned what that process could look like.

"We don't have a crystal ball, so obviously bringing back work search, getting more people employed is how we are shifting from unemployment insurance operations to what we have as our mantra, putting people to work," she said.

Thursday, 2 On Your Side repeatedly asked for an interview with Dejoie to discuss what's next for unemployment compensation, her team said she was unavailable.

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'Phase 1' enforcement at salons coming from Fire Marshal, Department of Health https://www.wbrz.com/news/phase-1-enforcement-at-salons-coming-from-fire-marshal-department-of-health/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/phase-1-enforcement-at-salons-coming-from-fire-marshal-department-of-health/ On Your Side Tue, 12 May 2020 5:52:36 PM Brittany Weiss 'Phase 1' enforcement at salons coming from Fire Marshal, Department of Health

BATON ROUGE - Salon owners and employees are cleaning and organizing ahead of Friday as many businesses are planning their reopening to the public.

"The main things I think are different than our usual rules are the masks and the capacity of limitations," Louisiana Cosmetology Board Chairman Edwin Neill said.

Each staff member and the client will be wearing a face covering while in the salon. Neill also says that only 25 percent of the building's posted capacity is allowed inside or one person for every 110 sq ft. The typical sanitation rules put in place by the Cosmetology Board will remain the same.

There are about 4,100 salons in Louisiana, and eight inspectors enforce the rules and regulations statewide.

"Our enforcement focus is health and sanitation rules that we've always had in place," Neill said.

The Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office and the Louisiana Department of Health will be taking complaints on the governor's order. For example, if the complaint is about PPE, the LDH will respond. If the complaint is about spacing within an establishment, the Fire Marshal will handle it.

"A lot of people are really excited to reopen and then there's a good portion of people who are nervous, which is totally understandable with this terrible disease," Neill said. "The goal is for everyone to get back to work and at the same time preserve the health and safety of clients and staff."

When the reopening starts Friday, complaints can be filed online with the State Fire Marshal or Department of Health. You can also call the Fire Marshal at 1-800-256-5452.

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Louisiana native working in fight against coronavirus as antibody manufacturer https://www.wbrz.com/news/louisiana-native-working-in-fight-against-coronavirus-as-antibody-manufacturer/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/louisiana-native-working-in-fight-against-coronavirus-as-antibody-manufacturer/ On Your Side Mon, 11 May 2020 5:48:27 PM Brittany Weiss Louisiana native working in fight against coronavirus as antibody manufacturer

RALEIGH, NC - A simple blood test can determine if you've been exposed to the coronavirus and if you've developed antibodies.

Tee Bordelon, a Broadmoor High School and LSU graduate, is now the Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at ImmunoReagents, Inc in Raleigh, NC. Bordelon and his team have been working over the last two months to supply diagnostic companies throughout the country on critical antibodies needed and being used in the fight against COVID-19.

"The more information you have, the better we are for it," Bordelon said. "I think it'll give some confidence to the public whether or not you've had it or have not. Some people are symptomatic, some are asymptomatic."

Antibodies can be detected two weeks after symptoms start, or in people who have been asymptomatic to the virus.

"As you get further away from infection, your IgM levels go down and your IgG levels go up. And that's the sort of thing people are looking at to gauge how long it's been since you've been infected," Bordelon said.

Bordelon says the antibody testing is important now, especially as more people head back to work and more businesses reopen. 

There are a number of locations in the Baton Rouge area that are offering antibody testing.

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Eye center makes safety changes amid COVID-19, welcomes back more patients https://www.wbrz.com/news/eye-center-makes-safety-changes-amid-covid-19-welcomes-back-more-patients/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/eye-center-makes-safety-changes-amid-covid-19-welcomes-back-more-patients/ On Your Side Thu, 30 Apr 2020 5:07:26 PM Brittany Weiss Eye center makes safety changes amid COVID-19, welcomes back more patients

BATON ROUGE - More businesses are starting to reopen amid the coronavirus outbreak, and non-emergency medical procedures are back on the books.

Williamson Eye Center on Summa Ave. is navigating some changes as it prepares to serve more people. Dr. Blake Williamson says all of the changes have been made with the safety of their patients in mind.

"When you come in, we're going to make sure you have the safest eye exam possible," he said. "Patients are going to come in, and some patients are going to be taken care of over the Internet."

Doctors have been seeing patients a little differently these last few weeks. Telemedicine has become increasingly popular and allowed doctors to triage patients. The eye center says there will be far fewer people sitting in a waiting room.

"You're going to be waiting in your car, and you're going to receive a text message when it's time to come in," Williamson said.

When patients do come into the office they'll have their temperature checked and see acrylic guards similar to what people have been seeing at the grocery store. People will be wearing gloves and everyone, including the patient, will be wearing a mask.

Once patients get to the exam room, the doctor will be using a large germ shield to reduce the risk of aerosolization.

The Williamson Eye Center has also made some invisible changes by updating the HVAC to improve the air quality and using ultraviolet light.

"We want it to be cleaner air than the air in your own home so we partnered with CIS Industries in order to use some UVC technology both in our HVAC system. UVC light is basically germicidal and kills microbes," said Williamson.

Many of the most important aspects of an eye exam can only be done in person. It's why these safety measures are being taken so seriously during the pandemic.

The Williamson Eye Center says its clinic for routine eye exams will open its doors in the next couple of weeks.

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Proper mask usage, cleaning explained https://www.wbrz.com/news/proper-mask-usage-cleaning-explained/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/proper-mask-usage-cleaning-explained/ On Your Side Tue, 28 Apr 2020 5:26:50 PM Brittany Weiss Proper mask usage, cleaning explained

BATON ROUGE - More people are encouraged to wear masks in public. And when a few rules are relaxed allowing some businesses to operate Friday, workers will need them to cover their nose and mouth.

The CDC says if you're going to be out and about doing essential things, your face should be covered while maintaining a social distance. Dr. Mindy Calandro with the Baton Rouge Clinic says wearing a mask protects others from the coronavirus.

"You're wearing them to help reduce spread," she said. "If you were to have it, it helps reduce you from spreading it."

More people are wearing masks in grocery stores and when they're in public, near others. Many people are being resourceful, making them for others or themselves. There are also tutorials online to show you how to make a mask using items found around the house. Here's one from the Surgeon General.

All the mask has to do is prevent exhalation of most large particles ejected when you cough or sneeze, or launch saliva when you're talking. You're protected from inhalation when others around you wear a mask.

Certainly, N95 masks are better than a cloth mask, which helps to block the droplet particles from entering and exiting. It's why healthcare workers need them, because they're working with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients.

"We know that they need them, because we know that they're exposed to those particles," Calandro said.

There has been discussion about reusing and disinfecting an N95 mask. People might be inclined to do so because they're so hard to find. The N95 masks weren't designed to be reused, while cloth masks are.

It is not recommended to spray or disinfect masks with disinfectant spray. It's best to wash your cloth mask in hot soapy water or run it through a washing machine cycle.

At the state's daily news conference Tuesday, Governor John Bel Edwards spoke about the importance that everyone over the age of two wears a mask. Dr. Alex Billioux demonstrated how to properly wear, clean, and store a mask. 

"When I wear a cloth mask, I'm limiting the potential virus that's shedding out of my face," Billioux said. "If we're all wearing masks, we're limiting the likelihood that if any of us are asymptomatic or symptomatic that we are shedding virus to each other."

When you're not wearing your mask, Billioux recommends that it's stored in a safe place, like a plastic bag. The mask should be folded inward so the outside is not touching the inside of the mask. The idea is that you want to touch your mask and face as little as possible. Before putting on and removing your mask, you should wash your hands and return the mask to its bag, put it in the washing machine, or wash it by hand. Billioux recommends washing the mask after each use.

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Salon owner fears reopening without proper PPE https://www.wbrz.com/news/salon-owner-fears-reopening-without-proper-ppe/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/salon-owner-fears-reopening-without-proper-ppe/ On Your Side Mon, 27 Apr 2020 5:55:27 PM Brittany Weiss Salon owner fears reopening without proper PPE

BATON ROUGE - Businesses won't be reopening until the governor feels Louisiana meets the criteria to move onto phase 1, and that could be after May 15. If that's the case, a salon owner in Baton Rouge says she's requesting information about where to get the proper protection to protect her and her clients.

For the last few weeks, Chelsea Leonard has been staying home, away from the salon where she works. She and her mom own Just Teased the Salon on Jones Creek Road. As the time approaches for them to possibly reopen to take clients, her questions remain unanswered.

"Our biggest concerns are not being able to purchase the things that we need," she said.

Leonard says the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology put out some guidelines recently that include screening employees and clients for a temperature, cleaning, and wiping down all items after each client, requiring everyone to wear a mask and disposable capes throughout the visit and permitting only five people per 500 square feet. Leonard says many of the supplies she needs to follow those guidelines are not accessible.

"I looked up the contact-less thermometer, those wouldn't be available to get here until June 15 through July 7," she said.

"Part of me is like, 'is it really safe?'"

State Board of Cosmetology Director Steve Young says guidelines for reopening salons will be put in place by the Louisiana Department of Health. In Louisiana, there are 4,500 salons and 35,000 people who work in salons waiting to go back to work.

While she struggles to find the supplies she needs, Leonard fears the risk of not reopening when everyone else does could hurt business. She fears if she doesn't open she might lose customers.

Leonard says they'll reopen when she feels safe to do so and is collecting the few supplies that she has, bracing for the changes in her industry.

At Monday's news conference, the governor said businesses should prepare and start looking for the supplies they need to reopen now.

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