Edwards: No disruption expected at upcoming session
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says he doesn’t foresee armed protesters disrupting lawmakers when a coronavirus-interrupted legislative session resumes Monday.
Speaking at a news conference Friday, the Democratic governor noted that, unlike in some other states, visitors in Louisiana aren’t allowed to bring firearms into the state Capitol.
“Obviously we have some individuals around the state who want to give voice to their opinions, which are different than mine at the moment, with respect to the necessity of the stay-at-home order,” Edwards said. “I would ask those individuals to do that in an appropriate and safe manner. If they do that, then there won’t be any problems like you saw in Michigan.”
In Michigan, hundreds of protesters — many without face coverings — entered the state’s Capitol on Thursday in opposition to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. They demanded to be let onto the House floor, which is not allowed. Some demonstrators in the Senate gallery were openly carrying guns, which is legal in the Statehouse but was criticized by Democratic lawmakers.
The issue surfaced as neighboring Republican-led states such as Texas and Mississippi moved more aggressively toward reopening their economies. On Monday, Edwards announced he was extending his Louisiana’s stay-at-home order through May 15.
In Baton Rouge on Friday, Edwards stressed his adherence to White House guidelines in light of growing pressure from some Republican leaders to open up more commerce.
Edwards has said he’d hoped for a wider reopening, but he pointed to charts showing coronavirus hospitalizations increasing in the health department regions encompassing the Baton Rouge and Monroe areas, while plateauing in central Louisiana.
Louisiana’s COVID-19 cases exceeded 29,100 with at least 1,950 dead as of Saturday, state health figures show.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has outlined plans to safely reopen the city in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. She told reporters Friday that public health and safety will be the driving factor regarding the city’s response.
“While we believe we are on track to be able to start reopening parts of our economy in a few weeks, this does not mean that our lives will go back to normal as we know it,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department. “We will be focusing on opening our lowest-risk businesses while still staying at home as much as possible, maintaining proper social distancing measures, and working to protect the most vulnerable New Orleanians.”
Cantrell’s stay-home order is in effect through at least May 15 in alignment with the state’s order. She said until then, residents should stay home except for essential needs.
Meanwhile, related COVID-19 cases have been reported at more than half of Louisiana’s nursing homes and nearly half of other adult residential facilities.
Nearly 2,800 nursing home residents have been diagnosed with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and at least 590 of them have died, the state Department of Health reported earlier this week. It said those people live or lived in 156 nursing homes — 55.6% of the total number in Louisiana.
The state department is no longer identifying facilities with at least two related cases of COVID-19. The state has 157 other licensed residential care providers, and 74 of them have reported clusters of the disease affecting 361 residents, with 47 deaths.
Nursing homes haven’t been testing people without symptoms, because current state guidelines call for testing only those with symptoms, said Mark Berger, executive director of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association.
Edwards said Thursday that the state expects to get about 200,000 test kits from the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control this month. He said that should allow testing of asymptomatic residents of nursing homes, prisons and other places where many people live in close quarters.
“On April 29, 2020, LDH informed LNHA that the testing guidance for nursing facilities is under review and may be changing; however, nursing facilities have not been notified of an official change regarding testing protocol,” Berger said in a statement emailed Thursday.