Defying his Republican opponents, Gov. Edwards extends COVID-19 restrictions

Edwards says he’s worried new cases are on the horizon

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).

Louisiana will remain in Phase 3 of its coronavirus reopening plan through Dec. 4, Gov. John Bel Edwards, announced Thursday as he said that risky behavior from residents over the Halloween weekend had him “on pins and needles” worrying that a new surge of COVID-19 is coming. “I’m hoping, praying, it doesn’t show up in the data in terms of increased cases,” Edwards said.

Because it takes time after exposure for changes in the number of positive tests and hospitalizations, Edwards said, “You’re always worse off than your current numbers show.” Wednesday’s numbers from the Louisiana Department of Health showed 636 people in the hospital with COVID-19, the highest number since Sept. 18. Hospitalizations are going up in the New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Central Louisiana and Northshore areas of the state.

Phase 3 of reopening includes there will be a statewide mask mandate and restrictions on bars for at least another 28 days. Other restrictions include a 75 percent capacity limit on restaurants, churches, salons and gyms as well as a 50 percent capacity limit on casinos.

Edwards’ extension of the public health emergency for four additional weeks comes nearly two weeks after Republicans in the Louisiana House produced a petition ordering the governor to end his public health emergency and a day after Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry unsuccessfully tried to get a Baton Rouge judge to stop the governor from making an emergency proclamation.  

Blake Miguez, the House Republican Caucus Chair, said in a phone interview Thursday that he had hoped  the petition would send a message to Gov. Edwards “through the voice of their elected representatives” that the citizens and business owners of Louisiana don’t  want continued restrictions, “but by extending the COVID-19 restrictions,” Miguez said, “it’s obvious it fell on deaf ears.”

Edwards filed an Oct. 26 lawsuit in East Baton Rouge Parish claiming that the law that allows a majority of one legislative chamber to override a governor’s public health emergency is unconstitutional.  Nineteenth Judicial District Judge William Morvant has scheduled a Nov. 12 hearing in that case.

At Thursday’s press conference, Dr. Joe Kanter, the interim assistant secretary of the Office of Public Health, said COVID-19 cases across the state have plateaued.

“The second that we lose vigilance, we’re going to see ourselves unfortunately where a number of other states are right now,” Kanter said.  Across the United States Wednesday, public health officials counted 107,800 new cases, the highest one-day total during the pandemic and the first time the number of daily cases has exceeded 100,000. 

Currently, Louisiana ranks 44th in the country in COVID-19 rate, but Edwards said “it is not because we improved our standing. It is because of the deterioration of other states’ standings, and the increase in cases elsewhere.”

 The governor said Louisianians should remember that cases across the country are rising as they make plans for Thanksgiving. The situation is unlikely, he said, to be any better by Christmas.