Four things you may have missed about Louisiana’s coronavirus outbreak this week

Tiger Stadium, the National Guard and More

John Bel Edwards
Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks about the coronavirus pandemic at a press conference on Thursday, Aug. 6. (Photo by Julie O'Donoghue)

There’s an avalanche of news about Louisiana’s COVID-19 outbreak every week and we know it’s hard to keep up. Here’s a few interesting news that might have slipped through the cracks this week: 

LSU planning around fans in Tiger Stadium this fall

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he has had “very good discussions” with LSU athletic director Scott Woodward about what could happen if LSU football resumes this fall.

The first football game is currently scheduled for late September, and the university is trying to come up with plans for having fans inside the 100,000-person Tiger Stadium, Edwards said at a press conference Thursday. 

“They’re planning for multiple contingencies as to what they will be able to do safely,” the governor said. “They don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet.”

LSU is currently trying to figure out how it might be able to get people in and out of the stadium safely as well as through restrooms and concession stand lines, Edwards said. It’s also not clear how far in advance of a home football game colleges and universities would have to know about the restrictions on stadium capacity. 

“We are going to have to see where we are in terms of our cases, our positivity, our hospitalizations — all of those things will inform what we think we can safely do here in Louisiana,” he said. 

“The good news is we do have some time because they backed up the start of the season.”

The governor thinks unemployed folks need to look for work 

Edwards believes that the approximately 450,000 people who are out of work in Louisiana need to start looking for a job, though advocates have questioned whether there are enough jobs available in the middle of the pandemic.

The governor on Thursday defended his administration’s decision to restore a requirement for a “work search” to qualify for unemployment compensation. Most people seeking benefits will now have to show that they attempted to look for a job before getting financial assistance. This obligation had previously been suspended during the pandemic.

“It is time to get those who can work back into a job,” the governor said.  “There are several thousand jobs available in Louisiana and so that’s what we are trying to do now.”

The governor said this new requirement could help slow the bleed from the state’s unemployment trust, which is set to run out of money in a matter of weeks. The fund was worth $1.1 billion at the beginning of March, but has been diminished to just $270 million. If it gets much lower, automatic taxes and fees will be imposed on state businesses to keep the fund from going insolvent.

Edwards wants Congress to help states prop up their unemployment funds so Louisiana and others can avoid higher business taxes during the pandemic.

Louisiana’s Republican legislative leaders are also considering taking money from a small business relief fund it set up to help backfill the unemployment trust fund. But Edwards said he doesn’t believe enough money will be left over to come close to solving the problem.

Two groups of people have been exempted from the “work search” mandate — those who are sick with COVID-19 and people who can’t work because a pandemic restriction has shut down their industry.

Louisiana may have to start paying for National Guard deployment

President Donald Trump has said Louisiana and most other states will have to pay for part of their National Guard deployment through the end of the year — a move which would cost Louisiana over $10 million, Edwards said. 

The federal government has been paying for the full National Guard deployment since the coronavirus pandemic started, but now it is asking all states — except for Florida and Texas — to cover 25 percent of that bill.

Texas and Florida currently have large COVID-19 outbreaks, but Louisiana has the highest number of cases per capita.

“I don’t begrudge Texas and Florida. I’m not upset that they are getting 100 percent coverage,  but I will tell you there is not a rational basis to distinguish between Louisiana and those two states,” Edwards  said. 

The governor said the National Guard currently helps Louisiana organize supplies for the coronavirus, administer large testing sites, distribute personal protective equipment to nursing homes, and assist ood banks.

Edwards said he is asking Louisiana’s congressional delegationto appeal to the White House to cover all National Guard expenses for the state.

The governor has removed local parish control over the mask mandate

When he put the mask mandate in place last month, the governor initially allowed parishes to “opt out” if they had low coronavirus infection rates in their communities. But on Thursday, when he renewed his emergency order — including the mask mandate — for another three weeks, he removed that exception. 

No parishes currently have a low enough infection rate that they would have qualified for the “opt out” option under the old rules anyway, but if they hit that benchmark, they will no longer have that choice. The governor’s office said it altered the regulations because the Trump administration is recommending statewide mask mandates.