Courts may decide Louisiana’s election plan; COVID-19 numbers dip to recent low

Also, Health Department to develop reporting standards for schools

Gov. John Bel Edwards
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards gives updates on the state's COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference at the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Photo by Wes Muller/LA Illuminator).

In a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Edwards said he is refusing to sign Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s proposed emergency election plan, meaning Louisiana is heading to November without a viable plan for residents concerned about infection to vote during the pandemic. Also, for the second consecutive day, Louisiana’s daily COVID-19 case count was below 1,000 — a mark that has not been seen since mid-June.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the numbers indicate steady improvement in Louisiana’s battle with the coronavirus.

Tuesday saw 644 new cases out of nearly 16,000 tests, bringing the state’s total case count to 139,125. Monday saw just 567 cases, which is typical as reporting tends to be lowest on Mondays. Although Louisiana is ranked highest in the nation for cases per capita, the number of new cases has continued on a downward trend since mid-July.

“We are seeing modest and sustained improvement in our numbers,” the governor said. “We still have a lot of work to do, and everybody has to continue to play their part.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations have remained about the same over the last few days with 1,204, but hospitalizations are down from 1,335 a week ago and 1,487 two weeks ago. The state had 28 new deaths, including the first COVID-19 death reported in Cameron Parish, bringing the death toll to 4,431 since March. The Louisiana Department of Health estimated that 103,512 patients have recovered from the virus.

As for the upcoming election, Gov. Edwards said he will not sign the secretary of state’s emergency election plan unless Ardoin makes significant changes to accommodate Louisianans who are unable to vote in-person because of the pandemic. 

Ardoin’s proposed plan, which he submitted to state legislators on Monday, makes very few accommodations for residents to vote by mail and even requires COVID-19 patients to predict if they “expect to be hospitalized on election day” in order to request an absentee mail ballot. 

Edwards said he doesn’t expect Ardoin will change the proposal, so if the legislature approves the plan, the fate of election day may be left to the courts to decide as Ardoin’s proposal will likely draw lawsuits.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has already sued the state of Louisiana — naming the governor and secretary of state as defendants. That suit was filed before Ardoin announced his plan Monday. Plaintiffs include Louisiana voters who have significant health challenges or are caring for people who have health challenges.

“Either we’ll have no emergency plan, or the plan will come from the court,” the governor said.

Lastly, Edwards said the Health Department is developing a system of standards for Louisiana’s schools — both K-12 and higher education — to start reporting COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, the Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reported on the lack of guidance and standards on how schools, particularly colleges and universities, report cases of COVID-19 infection on their campuses. Currently, each school sets its own rules for when and how to share infection and outbreak information with students, parents and the public. 

“If you are not sharing data quickly and transparently then that undermines confidence,” Edwards said. “We’re working to facilitate that.”

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Wesley Muller
Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.