Gov. John Bel Edwards said he isn’t yet considering moving the state backward in its reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic, but that could change if the current trajectory holds up and the state’s ability to deliver healthcare is once again threatened.
Edwards gave that answer to reporters Wednesday afternoon, hours after the Louisiana Department of Health reported its most cases in a single day since early April during the outbreak’s peak.
Though more people are coming into contact in the state's move to Phase One and later Phase Two, Edwards said the current spike in cases isn’t due to reopening the economy, which began when he lifted the state’s stay-at-home order on May 15.
Instead, the governor pointed to the “bad actors” who are not adhering to mitigation measures such as mask-wearing in public, maintaining social distance, practicing good hygiene, and staying home when sick as reasons for the recent spike.
He also said there will be a greater emphasis on enforcing the restrictions in place rather than adding new ones.
“The surge we’ve seen in cases is not because we went to Phase Two,” Edwards said. “It’s because people aren’t engaging in the proper behaviors.”
On Wednesday, health officials reported 2,083 new COVID-19 cases — the most since April 4 — to bring the statewide case count to 60,178. That’s the fourth time since June 23 that the state has confirmed at least 1,000 new cases in a single day. Overall, Wednesday’s increase is the third-most in a single day to date.
According to officials, 98 percent of the new cases were the result of community spread, while 49 percent came among people ages 29 years old and younger, continuing the rapid growth of the disease in young people.
Of the new cases, Edwards did note that there were around “900 backlogs” dated between June 16-29 in Wednesday’s tally.
“Even if you want to exclude that 900, that’s still an awful lot to report today,” Edwards said.
Another area of concern — one Edwards said that caught the attention of the White House Coronavirus Task Force — is the heightened positivity rate for new COVID-19 tests. As of June 26, the state was around a 9.7-percent rate of positivity, with “several regions” above the state’s goal of 10 percent.
That’s especially true locally here in Livingston Parish, where the rate of positivity has been 12.5 percent off of 2,324 tests since June 23, resulting in an additional 292 cases. That includes the most new cases in a single day yet on Wednesday with 79 to bring the local case count to 983.
Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations continued their upward trajectory, increasing by 18 overnight to reach 799, the most since May 27 (798) when the state was in Phase One of reopening. Hospitalizations have increased in 12 of the Department of Health’s last 15 updates, and since June 14, they’ve risen by 257.
On a regional level, Edwards said hospitalizations per capita are increasing in seven of the nine LDH regions.
Though COVID-19 hospitalizations have spiked over the last three weeks, Edwards said the state isn’t yet at a point where it is threatening to overwhelm its medical capacity, something that seemed possible in the spring. Louisiana had more than 2,100 hospitalizations on April 13 during the pandemic’s peak before dropping to as low as 542 on June 13.
And while Edwards acknowledged that the state has “lost all the progress in hospitalizations in the month of June,” he added that there isn’t yet an “immediate threat” of exceeding the ability to deliver healthcare and therefore doesn’t believe moving to Phase One — or "Phase Zero," the stay-at-home order — is needed at this point.
“What we are going to do is double up on communications and try to get more assistance from leaders on all levels, and not just elected leaders,” Edwards said, urging business leaders to take up the cause.
The state will be in Phase Two until at least July 24, exactly four weeks longer than its initial expiration date. When he extended the Phase Two order last week, Edwards said he and his team would do a “deep dive” into the data midway through to see if extra measures were needed.
To avoid extra measures and restrictions, Edwards called on the public to take the situation into their own hands by adhering to the mitigation measures health experts have touted as ways to slow the spread of the virus.
“We are going to do everything we can to get more compliance with the restrictions we currently have in place with Phase Two and get more compliance with the mitigation measures by the general public,” he said. “Remember, everybody has a role to play.”