UPDATE 4 p.m.:
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's governor on Friday closed K-12 public schools across the state for roughly a month and banned gatherings of more than 250 people in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He said he also planned to postpone the presidential primary until June.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he planned to sign an executive order delaying the April 4 election until June 20, which would make Louisiana the first state to push back its election because of the virus. Louisiana also postponed elections in 2005 after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and in 2008 after hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
The Democratic governor also ordered public schools shuttered until April 13 and barred all large public gatherings of more than 250 people until the same date, with no exemptions for church services. He also loosened deadlines for renewing driver's licenses and conducting other state business, to cut down on face-to-face interactions at state buildings.
“The time for serious action is now,” Edwards said at a news conference with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell. He added: “There is some period of time where we’re going to have a new normal.”
The limitations on public gatherings don't apply to normal operations at airports, medical facilities, shopping centers, office buildings, manufacturing facilities or grocery stores. Edwards said public schools may offer distance learning for the state's 700,000 students, but he temporarily suspended state provisions requiring students to receive a certain number of instructional minutes.
At the news conference with Edwards, Cantrell tried to combat rumors, telling the public, “We are not limiting the sale of alcohol. We are not shutting down private businesses or forcing them to close.”
Edwards' order comes as governments across the world are dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The state's first positive case was announced Monday. By Friday morning, the tally of positive test results had grown to 36, mainly in the New Orleans region, although one case was identified in Northwest Louisiana, in Caddo Parish, state health officials said. The tests are awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Most people recover within weeks.
The number of presumptive positive tests reached 36 Friday. Affected parishes are Caddo, Lafourche, St. Bernard, St. Charles and Terrebonne with one each, St. Tammany with two, Jefferson with three and Orleans with 26.
Edwards has urged people to remain calm, but to take precautions. The governor has declared a public health emergency in the state. State prisons have suspended visitation for 30 days, and hospitals and nursing homes are limiting visitor access to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to vulnerable populations.
As they were around the country, events in Louisiana were being canceled. Every public four-year university in the state was moving its classes online, Edwards said. Legislative leaders, meanwhile, sent an email to lawmakers saying they intended to limit public access to the state Capitol building, and planned to have visitors' temperatures taken at entrance points before allowing them inside.
Lawmakers, who are only in one week into the Legislature's three-month session, also have begun working on contingency plans for must-pass bills, such as the budget, in case they need to end the session early. Edwards encouraged lawmakers to suspend legal requirements involving how many House and Senate members must be on hand to take votes and pass bills.
UPDATE 1:06 p.m.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards today signed a proclamation that among other actions immediately halts any gathering of more than 250 people until April 13, closes all K-12 public schools statewide effective Monday resuming April 13 as Louisiana seeks to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
As of mid-day Friday, Louisiana has 33 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19.
The governor will address this order at his 3 p.m. joint media briefing with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell at New Orleans City Hall, which will also be live-streamed at Facebook.com/LouisianaGov.
“We are at an inflection point now and we are going to take bold action to minimize the further spread of this illness. That is why I am issuing this order today, ending all events of more than 250 people, closing our schools, and reducing the amount of face-to-face public interaction at state government buildings,” Edwards said.
“In a separate executive order, I will grant Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s request to move our upcoming elections for April and May to June and July. The limits on gatherings of 250 people or more statewide is based on federal CDC guidance given the community spread which we are currently experiencing. These steps are necessary to protect the health and safety of the people of Louisiana from the risk of COVID-19," he said.
BATON ROUGE, La. - The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) announced Friday that the state emergency operations center (SEOC) has been partially activated as part of the state’s coronavirus or COVID-19 response efforts. That level of activation involves select state agencies reporting to the EOC and working together as this health emergency continues to impact the state. Those employees will be tasked with evaluating and filling requests for support from our local emergency managers and other state agencies.
“GOHSEP has helped coordinate the information flow with our local, state and federal partners for the past several weeks as the coronavirus threat has grown,” said GOHSEP Director Jim Waskom. “We stand ready to support those responding to this threat as we would for any type of disaster. We always encourage the public to review your emergency game plan and check your emergency supplies. Stay informed with information from reliable sources in order to make the best decisions for you, your family and your business.”
Louisiana’s statewide 211 network is now answering calls about COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. This network is best designed and staffed to handle the large volume of calls from Louisiana residents who are concerned and who have questions about the rapidly-spreading virus.
Anyone looking for information about the COVID-19 outbreak can also dial 211 or text the keyword LACOVID to 898-211 for the most current information about the outbreak as it becomes available.
GOHSEP has activated its public information website at www.emergency.la.gov in order to consolidate news releases and other updates.