COVID-19, Laura and Delta: Louisiana juggles ongoing and upcoming crises

‘It’s been one thing after another,’ Gov. Edward says

This satellite image of Hurricane Delta shows the Category 4 storm moving toward the Yucatan Peninsula on Oct. 6, 2020. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Gov. John Bel Edwards prefaced a Tuesday afternoon press conference by saying he’d talk a bit about Laura, a bit about COVID-19 and a lot about Hurricane Delta, providing a stark reminder that Louisiana is recovering from one disaster while still experiencing another and bracing itself for one yet to come.  Edwards said Louisiana’s 2020 hurricane season had been “relentless” and that since March in the state, “it’s been one thing after another.”

Hurricane Delta, named for the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, quickly intensified from a tropical storm Monday to a Category 4 storm Tuesday, and Benjamin Schott, the chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New Orleans, said that Louisiana could be feeling the first winds from the storm Friday morning with a landfall late that night or Saturday morning.

Schott said that the storm is expected to be fast moving (which should mean less rain than a slow moving storm) and is expected to weaken as it approaches the Louisiana coast but residents shouldn’t use those predictions as an excuse to take the storm lightly. “Don’t worry about what category” Delta will be, he said. “It’s going to be a major hurricane.”

While it’s far too soon to say where Delta might make landfall, Edwards pointed out that the cone forecasters use to show where the storm might go includes the whole state. The western edge of that cone “is the western edge of Louisiana,” he said “and the eastern edge of the cone is the eastern edge of the state.”

This is only the second time in history that there have been more than 21 named Atlantic Storms and the list of Latin alphabet names has been exhausted. The only precedent is 2005 when the last storm of the season was Tropical Storm Zeta, named for the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2005’s Delta storm formed on November 15, 2005, more than a month later than this storm.

Edwards said that more than 6,600 people who were evacuated after Hurricane Laura remain in Louisiana hotels.  Ten of the 12 hotels being used are in New Orleans, he said, and the other two are in Baton Rouge and Lafayette.  He said he doesn’t anticipate needing to move those evacuees somewhere else. Nor, he said, does he anticipate the need for any major mandatory evacuations for any residents inside a levee protection system.

Edwards encouraged residents to take time now to plan for the bad weather and power outages that Hurricane Delta is likely to bring and to plan with COVID-19 mitigation measures in mind. He reported six more COVID-19 deaths in Louisiana to bring the cumulative total to 5,402 fatalities. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased from 547 to 567, he said, but it’s too soon to know if that represents a worrisome trend.

The state will likely have to suspend its COVID-19 testing program later this week, Edwards said, because of the approaching storm.