As Louisiana’s COVID-19 response continues, the state’s top public health official is resigning

Alex Billioux will leave his job at the end of the month

Alex Billioux

The person who oversees Louisiana’s public health office  — and the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — is leaving his job.

Alex Billioux, a medical doctor and the assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Health, will step down at the end of the month, the health department confirmed Wednesday. He has been in charge of Louisiana’s public health efforts for two years.

“We know it was a very tough decision for him to make, and he will be sorely missed at LDH. Dr. Billioux is leaving for personal reasons, to spend more time with his family,” said Aly Neel, spokeswoman for the health agency. 

News of Billioux’s resignation broke the night before Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to announce whether Louisiana is moving into Phase 3 of reopening the economy during the coronavirus outbreak. A move to Phase 3 could allow restaurants, bars, casinos and other entertainment venues to open up further than they currently are.

Neel said Billioux’s decision is not related to the governor’s decision regarding Phase 3 that’s expected Thursday. Edwards would be expected to rely on Billioux for data and insight into whether Louisiana should move forward with opening up the economy more — or is still too much in a precarious public health position to proceed.

When the governor put off moving into Phase 3 in July, Billioux was on hand to explain to reporters why health officials had “strongly recommended” to the governor that Louisiana remain in Phase 2.

In fact, Billioux has been “the face” of Louisiana’s COVID-19 response several times, as one of the highest ranking state officials with a medical degree. He makes frequent appearances at press conferences and on television to talk about Louisiana’s coronavirus prevention efforts.

This week, the governor is under enormous pressure to open the state up further.

Louisiana’s House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Gonzales Republican, said last week during a hearing that he thought the state should move into Phase 3 of reopening. Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes — two of the largest parishes in the state — have also asked to move to Phase 3.

But almost all of Louisiana is still considered to have a high rate of infection, according to the Louisiana Department of Health’s own data. The number of cases per 100,000 residents has also been rising since late August.

The state also may not have fully felt the impact of opening up schools and universities yet either — which could lead to further spread of the virus.

Louisiana’s testing is also not as robust as it has previously been. Hurricane Laura disrupted testing efforts, and the state doesn’t have as much data about the spread of COVID-19 over the last couple of weeks as it typically does.