Newell: Stay the course; virus data tells us the worst is yet to come

Governor urges citizens to follow shelter-in-place orders

Newell Normand
March 25, 2020 - 4:48 pm

Governor John Bel Edwards asked President Trump for a major disaster declaration to free up resources in the fight against coronavirus in the Bayou State, and the President thankfully obliged. To help explain what this designation means and where Louisiana is in the fight against the pandemic, Governor Edwards joined Newell live on his show Wednesday morning.

“I appreciate the fact the President signed our request,” Edwards began. “That makes us the fourth state to receive a major Federal disaster declaration, along with New York, California and Washington, and that should put us in the conversation with those other states as being one of those most adversely impacted by the disease… We still have the third-highest case count in the country on a per capita basis, and that’s very significant. We haven’t yet seen the curve start to flatten in a way that’s going to help us. If we stay on the trajectory we are on now, we know that even after surging our hospital capacity, sometime after April 7th or so, we will exceed our capacity to deliver healthcare in the New Orleans area. The main message I have for your listeners today is to please take these mitigation measures seriously. Don’t engage in any unnecessary travel, and maintain your social distancing. It’s imperative we start to flatten that curve. If our measures are being helpful, we should see that start to happen, but it hasn’t yet.”

“One thing you were asking for was assistance from the military,” Newell said. “Those three other states you mentioned are on their way, New York in particular with military field hospital operations. One of the reasons South Korea and Wuhan had success is that they were able to set up temporary quarantine centers to move those that had tested positive and were infectious out of mainstream commerce and keep them from public interaction. Is that part of the overall strategy you are looking at?”

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“It is,” the Governor answered. “Where South Korea did an exceptionally good job is that very quickly after the outbreak they were able to engage in testing at a very high throughput level, collecting specimens to be tested with tremendous capacity, and then getting labs online to do that testing, and they identified very quickly those people who had the disease. Through direct orders to them and contract tracing, they were able to isolate them. Our testing system is very robust today but it was slow developing, here and across the country, so we didn’t identify as many people early on, and that’s why these mitigation measures are so important.”

“One question we get a lot - when you refer to the 11,451 tests done, is that just the state lab, or does it include third-party labs as well?” Newell asked.

“That includes the third-party labs,” Edwards said. “At one time, it was only the state lab that was testing, and primarily people who were in the hospital and symptomatic, so we had a high rate of positives. Now, of the 11,451 overall tests, 9,414 have been done by private labs, and 2,037 are state labs. The private labs are informing our data in much bigger numbers than the state labs, and as a result, the percentage of people who are testing positive is way down from where it was previously, and the percentage of people who are in hospitals and positive is going down, but it’s around 20% and we need it to go to 12% or 13% in order to extend out the medical capacity we have for a long as possible. We’re greatly ramping up the private labs, in fact there’s more coming online today. This number is just going to continue to increase. But there’s nothing in today’s report that suggests our trajectory is changing. It’s more of the same, and that’s very disconcerting to me.”

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“Everyone’s waiting with much anticipation for the signing of the relief bill,” Newell continued. “The burn rate for state and local resources has been significant. How confident are you that they’re going to be able to get those dollars down here in short order?”

“I’m actually feeling pretty good about it,” Edwards answered. “Until it actually passes it’s subject to being changed, but there are provisions in there that would be helpful to the state in terms of state relief funds, because we are burning through our cash as we respond to this. There will be funding helpful to the hospitals, and to our unemployment compensation. Over the next four months, there will be a monthly benefit for people who are unemployed in addition to their weekly benefit, and I believe there’s going to be a lot of relief for small businesses in terms of loans, some of which may be forgivable. It’s a little premature until the bill works through both houses of Congress and gets signed by the President, but it appears all of that is going to happen over the next 24 hours or so, and we anticipate the help will be available to the state quickly thereafter.”

“Thank you for your credible leadership,” Newell concluded. “And for your very deliberate and direct response, the access to information. Sometimes it sounds dire, but it is what it is, those are the facts. I think the listening audience really appreciates that you share that with them.”

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