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Gov. Edwards: Masks to be part of 'new normal'

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BATON ROUGE — Masks will be recommended attire for Louisiana residents even when stay-at-home orders and restrictions on business activity are eased during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday.

He noted medical experts’ guidance saying proper masks keep patients infected with coronavirus from spreading it to others.

“Think of wearing a mask in public as just being polite to others,” Edwards said at his daily news conference, calling mask-wearing part of “new normal” of life when restrictions are lifted.

It remained unclear exactly how and when restrictions will be lifted, but Edwards said he expects to deliver more information as early as Monday.

Louisiana’s current stay-at-home emergency order, banning gatherings of more than 10 people and forcing the closure of many nonessential businesses, expires April 30. As the debate continues around the nation over when and how to reopen, some Republican officials around Louisiana have expressed eagerness to start reopening at least some businesses May 1.

The Democratic governor has been reluctant to speculate on what will be done next, preferring to wait for more data on the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. On Wednesday he told the inaugural telephone meeting of the Resilient Louisiana Commission, a group he assembled for guidance on reopening, that it will be early next week before he can start talking about what will happen May 1. He has said, however, that he won’t simply extend what’s in place.

Edwards reiterated at the meeting that the state’s actions will largely be based on guidance from a White House task force, including thresholds for reduction in symptoms and cases and assurance of hospital capacity as measured over a 14-day period.

“We’re about halfway through the 14 days and the current trajectory looks promising,” Edwards said later at his daily news conference.

Edwards also announced a plan to help the state’s oil industry, a major employer staggered by plummeting demand and prices during the pandemic. He said the state revenue department will delay collection of severance taxes on oil and gas produced in the state, which bring in about $40 million a month. Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson said severance taxes that are due April 25 are being extended until June 25.

Earlier Wednesday, business interests from around the state released a 16-page “Preliminary Framework for Louisiana’s Economic Recovery.” The report was released by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber on behalf of nearly 50 local chambers of commerce and business and industry lobbying groups.

The report suggests a “Stay at Home and Safe at Work Order” with safety rules for businesses that could reopen as early as May 1, “or the best date advised by healthcare leaders.” The early emphasis would be on opening workplaces as safely as possible while maintaining guidance calling for people to “avoid congregating and social interaction in large groups.”

The report has extensive recommendations on workplace safety, the need to prepared for a “second wave” of infections, the necessity of opening all non-emergency medical, dental and mental health facilities, day care needs and help for minority- and women-owned businesses and rural businesses trying to navigate complicated federal aid programs.

The efforts take place against a backdrop of daily COVID-19 statistics numbers both sobering and hopeful. Louisiana’s death toll from the virus continues to rise, reaching 1,473 on Wednesday, an increase of 68 from the day before, according to figures released by the state health department. The number of known coronavirus infections, based on testing by the state health department and commercial labs, topped 25,000.

However, the number hospitalized in the state dropped to 1,747 Wednesday. It has consistently been under, 1,800 in recent days after having peaked at 2,134 earlier this month. And the number needing ventilators, 287on Wednesday, had peaked at 571 in early April.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that usually clear up within weeks. For some, it can cause severe illness and be life-threatening.

In other virus-related developments Wednesday, Louisiana State Police postponed plans to hold a cadet class in the summer because of the “financial challenges” caused by COVID-19. And the state Supreme Court extended an existing delay for criminal and civil trials in state courts to June 30.

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