Apr 16, 2020
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards Briefing Transcript April 16
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards held a coronavirus press conference today, April 16. Read the full transcript here.
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John Bel Edwards: (00:00)
… police has been appointed to the advisory council that the president will work with as he makes decisions about the guidance that he’s going to issue relative to reopening the economy. Certainly, I think that’s helpful for our state to have someone on that council.
John Bel Edwards: (00:19)
We also have the secretary of economic development, Don Pearson who is here. He will be able to answer any questions about an announcement that I’ll be making as part of this press conference around the Resilient Louisiana Commission, which will help us as we transition to reopening our economy here in Louisiana, not just in the short term but in the longer term too, because we know this is going to be a process that’s going to unfold over a number of weeks and months and so forth. You’ve heard me say we’re not going to have a normal, we’re not going to get back to normal until we have a vaccine and some effective therapeutic treatments, but we’re not going to wait until then before we start to reopen the economy, get businesses back open, get workers back to work. There’s a process that we’re going to follow and this commission, the Resilient Louisiana Commission, I should say, will be instrumental in helping us to make sure we do that.
John Bel Edwards: (01:23)
I’m going to apologize up front because I’ve got more prepared remarks today than I normally do, but I think all of it is really important. As for today’s numbers, you don’t see them on the dashboard yet because we update at noon. I can tell you that we will report 581 new cases today for a total of 22,532. In addition, and quite sadly, we will report 53 new deaths for a total of 1,156. As for the number of tests, we have …
Speaker 2: (02:07)
A little over 4,600.
John Bel Edwards: (02:09)
A little over 4,600 tests that are informing today’s data that the results of which have been shared with us over the last 24 hours. There will be additional numbers report at noon related to hospitalization numbers, ventilator utilization numbers and so forth. We also have a little information from the department of health that they’re going to share based on the regional projections across the state. As a state we’re going to see new COVID infections throughout the remainder of this year. Obviously, we want to see a downward trajectory of cases. After you flatten the curve, you hope to see that the curve actually bends downward.
John Bel Edwards: (03:02)
I’ll talk a little bit about the New Orleans region today. What the numbers show there is that hospitalization for COVID patients and for PUIs is trending downward and vent utilization is trending downward too. If you look at the vent and hospital charts, and this is Region One, so this is New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, also St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, where we are is on the red line. If you look at today’s date on the number of COVID in the hospital, it’s about 790. Now had we stayed on the trajectory that we were on before we issued the shelter-at-home, stay-at-home order, we would have just in Region One today, according to the modeling, almost 3000 people in the hospital. That’s 1,200 or so people that are not in the hospital today that would have been.
John Bel Edwards: (04:09)
Then over on the chart on the right you can see a ventilator utilization. We’re at 156 in Region One. We’d have been over a thousand in Region One alone, which is why we were doing everything we could to surge medical capacity related to beds, ICU space, acute care beds, staffing and ventilators because we didn’t know for a fact that we would get off of that curve. You’ll remember a month ago we were reporting new cases on a pace that was leading the world. We’re in a better place today precisely because the people of Louisiana, and in this case Region One, took seriously the stay-at-home order. They took seriously the need to practice social distancing and better hygiene, and it is literally paying off because just as we talked about the number of deaths, not just being numbers, those are real people, these are real people that we may never know the identity of, but they’re not in the hospital and they’re not dying because of the stay-at-home order.
John Bel Edwards: (05:16)
This is really important and I hope you all will help us to explain to the people of Louisiana just how critically important this is. By the way, now is not the time to let up. As Dr. Fauci, said we need to be putting the accelerator all the way to the floor on these mitigation measures, especially as we move through the month of April because it’s all part of the president’s 30-day plan that was added to the initial 15-day plan, so I guess it’s a 45-day plan, to stop the spread. It coincides exactly with our plan here in Louisiana through April as well. But this is why we’re doing it to achieve these kinds of results. It’s still sad that we have people in the hospital today, on ventilators today, in ICU. We have people dying today, but not in the numbers that we thought were going to be the case. I wanted to share that with you all this morning.
John Bel Edwards: (06:10)
I also have another chart to show you that had the trajectories of where we would be on cases of COVID in Louisiana and this is, I’m sorry, not Louisiana, in Region One, so this is the same area. You can see the red line there with an are not of 2.4, so that’s basically you do nothing and you allow people to interact as they normally would. You would have seen cases along the red line are not of 2.0 is some mitigation measures, but not too many and not necessarily everybody participating. You kind of see where you are there. 1.7 is the blue line and then are not of 1.3, that’s a shelter-in-place order like I gave that people are following for the most part. That’s really where we’re trending right now is the 1.3. Quite frankly, a couple of weeks ago we were doubtful that we would ever get to that line.
John Bel Edwards: (07:18)
You have various data points that you can use to kind of determine where you are. New cases is not the best of them, but hospitalizations can tell you. Within hospitalizations we can model on ICU utilization and vent utilization as well. When you put all those things together, we know that in Region One our line is down around the 1.3. What that means is we’re not transmitting COVID the way that we would if these measures were not in place. It’s really paying off for us and we’re in a much better place than we literally thought was possible. Just wanting to share that information with you and if you have questions about that, we’ll get back to your questions later.
John Bel Edwards: (08:09)
But this is all the good news. It means we’re headed in the right direction.
John Bel Edwards: (08:16)
Come on in, Steve. Congressman Scalise is here, appreciate you for joining us.
John Bel Edwards: (08:22)
What it means is we’re heading in the right direction. We’re doing relatively well. We do know, however, that not everyone across the state and certainly not every region is embracing and complying with the shelter-in-home order to the degree that we would like them to and doing other things around social distancing and hygiene. I, again, implore everybody to do that for the remainder of April.
John Bel Edwards: (08:49)
Obviously, we do have essential infrastructure and essential workers that are out there working. We’ve made sure that people have access to nutrition by leaving restaurants and grocery stores open and so forth. But as you venture out to take advantage of those things, don’t do it more often than is necessary. You don’t have to take everybody to the store every time that you go. Of course, we have the delivery and the drive-through and the takeout options at our restaurants.
John Bel Edwards: (09:21)
I know there’s a significant concern that if we remove too many restrictions all at once that we’re going to see the cases spike. That’s a concern that I have as well. We have to try to strike the right balance between promoting public health and minimizing the spread of COVID-19, the demand on our hospitals and ultimately the number of people who die. But we do know that we also have to transition to opening up more of our economy across the state of Louisiana, and we’re going to do that.
John Bel Edwards: (09:53)
I don’t have a lot of precise information for you today. I do have a video-telephone conference with the president and the Coronavirus Task Force at 2:00 PM today. Congressman Scalise is going to sit in on that conference with me. As I mentioned earlier, he’s been appointed by the president to a council of advisors, and I’m not exactly sure what you’re calling it, to help the president decide exactly how we’re going to open up the economy moving forward as well. I think that that’s very helpful. But we’re going to have more information for you all in the coming days as to what that’s going to look like.
John Bel Edwards: (10:31)
We do expect the CDC to revise their guidance today. We’ll continue to rely on that guidance and consult with our department of health and office of public health here. We will continue to look to things like the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency, what their guidance is and whether it changes on what is essential infrastructure and which workers are considered essential and so forth. We’ll have more information for you all about that in the coming days and weeks.
John Bel Edwards: (11:07)
I do want to take a moment to thank the Farm Bureau of Louisiana. They gave $500,000 to Feeding Louisiana and that’s the association of food banks, so that money’s going to be shared across five food banks that touch all 64 parishes. They include the greater Baton Rouge food bank, the Second Harvest food bank, which also covers the Acadiana region, the food bank of northwest Louisiana, the food bank of northeast Louisiana, and the food bank of central Louisiana.
John Bel Edwards: (11:37)
On that note, while we’re talking about the Farm Bureau, I’ve asked for special prayers for Ronnie Anderson. He’s been the president of Farm Bureau for 31 years and he’s also been a long-term member of the LSU board of supervisors. He is currently in the hospital in an ICU and on a ventilator fighting against COVID-19. He is aware and responding to stimulus, but today marks his 29th day in the hospital. Ronnie is set to retire in June, so I’d ask you to keep him and his wife, Vivian, and the entire family in your prayers. He is one of those people that are represented by the numbers that we always talk about, but those numbers all refer to individuals in Louisiana.
John Bel Edwards: (12:27)
I also want to thank Airbnb for committing $500,000 to provide places to stay for at least 350 frontline healthcare workers in the New Orleans region.
John Bel Edwards: (12:38)
Today, Sam’s Club and Walmart are donating produce to healthcare workers at University Hospital in New Orleans, about 20,000 pounds of fresh produce via Sam’s Club, so we thank them very much for that. We expect that it will provide over a thousand hospital employees with fresh produce and they’re going to be onsite, Sam’s Club employees will be to distribute that today.
John Bel Edwards: (13:02)
Obviously, our healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, a lot of professional healthcare workers, they’re on the front lines. They are absolute heroes, working long hours to care for those who are dealing with COVID-19 and people who are in the hospital for whatever reason they happen to be in the hospital right now. We’re very thankful for them and we’re thankful for Walmart and Sam’s Club for recognizing how important they are and to recognize them. This gesture I think is relatively simple, but I think it does speak volumes as to how important they are.
John Bel Edwards: (13:42)
The other thing that I wanted to recognize is Walmart they’ve been helping the state. They’re partnering with the state to facilitate testing. They’re doing that principally right now in Caddo Parish, but also down in St. John the Baptist Parish, and that’s really helping an awful lot.
John Bel Edwards: (14:02)
Then I want to make an important announcement regarding our economic recovery. Life as we know it obviously has been altered for the time being. No part of our state, no part of our economy has been untouched by this public health emergency. We remain in the midst of a fight to defeat the invisible enemy. We’re not there yet. Although, we are doing better. Our healthcare, education, business and governmental institutions have all been adversely impacted, and I understand that we need the best possible game plan for the future in order to foster economic recovery to become an even more resilient state and to safeguard public health.
John Bel Edwards: (14:46)
For all of these reasons, I’m announcing today the creation of the reason, I’m sorry, the Resilient Louisiana Commission that will assemble that game plan. The purpose is to bring together the very best public sector and private sector individuals who have expertise in these areas and get them to prepare and guide the state through the next weeks and months as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re going to look at our economy, make recommendations to make our businesses more resilient so that we can open them up, get businesses open, get workers back to work, but do so in a way that adequately protects public health. You’re going to see a lot of activity, a lot of recommendations come from this group. Obviously the intended outcome is a comprehensive game plan that makes our state more resilient, both in the short term and the long term.
John Bel Edwards: (15:45)
I’m excited about the work that they’re going do. We’re going to make sure they do it in a transparent way that includes multiple viewpoints and it’s going to have multiple individuals from business and industry all across the state of Louisiana, geographically and by a sector of the economy.
John Bel Edwards: (16:02)
… and by sector of the economy. It’s a tall task, by the way, but I have a confidence that, with the experienced and talented, dedicated and diverse members of this task force, that they’re going to do a great job.
John Bel Edwards: (16:16)
The lieutenant governor, Billy Nungesser, has agreed to serve on the commission. He’s going to be joined by other state officials such as Jay Dardenne, our commissioner of administration, Secretary Kimberly Robinson of the Department of Revenue. They will serve as ex officio members. Also on the panel will be State Senator Ronnie Johns who was the Senate commerce chair and State Representative Paula Davis who is the House commerce chair.
John Bel Edwards: (16:43)
The two chairs who will be charged with leading the Resilient Louisiana Commission are Don Pierson and Terrie Sterling. You all know Don. He has decades of economic development experience at the local, regional and state levels. I will tell you I can’t think of anybody better than Terrie Sterling to be the co-chair. The recovery is going to be a big part of this in terms of healthcare, as well, and that’s where she has spent her career. We need to know what’s worked and what didn’t work in terms of our medical response to COVID-19. Terrie has served for more than two decades over the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady of Health System in executive roles, and she was instrumental in leading the creation of the new children’s hospital here in Baton Rouge, and she now leads a healthcare management consulting business.
John Bel Edwards: (17:34)
We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m asking them to get started just as soon as possible. They will have multiple task forces that are going to be formed underneath them by sector of our economy. I’m looking forward to receiving their work. This is not going to be one and done. This is going to continue for some period of time. I have no doubt that we’re all going to get through this by working together. You can track the work of the commission online at opportunitylouisiana.com/resilientlouisiana. That’s opportunitylouisiana.com/resilientlouisiana.
John Bel Edwards: (18:12)
As I mentioned, we’re going to have a call with the president today at two o’clock. Congressman Scalise is going to sit in on that video telephone conference with me. I expect the president to talk more about reopening the economy today and the guidance that we’ll be getting from him and the Coronavirus Task Force and, potentially, what we will see soon in terms of revised guidance from the CDC. Looking forward to all of that.
John Bel Edwards: (18:40)
At this point, Steve, I wanted to see if you wanted to offer some comments before I come back and answer some questions from the public and then take questions of these folks. Thank you for being with us.
Good to be with you, Governor. Sorry we can’t shake hands formally, but it’s great to be with you in person. The governor and I have been talking on the phone throughout this crisis, working well together. In all levels of government, you’ve seen the federal government, state government and local governments working real well together. Our whole delegation has been United in that front, Republican and Democrat alike. We’ve all come together. I think you’re seeing that across the country, but especially here in Louisiana, we’ve always had that tradition, as a congressional delegation, of working well together through crisis to get the state through it.
Really, that’s where the focus has been is, number one, addressing and containing this virus. So much work has gone into addressing so many of the problems that we’ve seen. Of course, New Orleans became one of the epicenters for the outbreak as well as some of the surrounding parishes, Jefferson, St. John the Baptist, and you saw a lot of effort made from the governor’s standpoint all the way down. We talked to the president on a number of those issues. When we were worried about ventilator shortages, we were able to work directly with the FEMA administrator to get more ventilators, to get more PPE for those frontline workers.
I can’t say enough about those great men and women that are working in our hospitals, the doctors, the nurses, the people that are cleaning up the rooms and being extra cautious but also not sure just what exposure they’re having for their own families, and yet they still go to work to keep our community safe. It’s one more reason why it’s so important that we do our part, every one of us, to keep ourselves and our families safe throughout this so that we don’t overwhelm those hospital systems. I think it’s a good sign to see that you’re seeing a drop in ventilator use. The people that are on ventilators is coming down. It’s no means, by the way, to take our foot off the gas or to let up on the things that we’re doing to socially distance, to be smarter about what we do when we go out. Even when you go to the grocery store, you’re seeing people keep a better distance from themselves. If you see somebody else on the aisle, maybe you’re not fighting as much for the toilet paper these days, but people are, I think, a lot better aware of what they need to do to keep themselves and their families safe. By doing that, it gets us one step closer to where we can start opening up the economy. I’ll talk a little bit about that.
I do want to first mention one of the programs that’s been incredibly successful for small businesses in Louisiana, for businesses all across the country, has been the Paycheck Protection Program. It’s one of the components of the CARES Act, that large $2.2 trillion package that Congress passed just a few weeks ago. This is something. You think about how government, a lot of times, works slow to react to things. Here’s a case where government moved at light speed to set up a program. This was Republicans and Democrats, again, coming together to say we need to save our small businesses, the medium-size businesses and including the large-sized businesses.
There’s different components of that bill for everybody, but the Paycheck Protection Program has been the most successful and the most effective. We’ve seen 1.6 million businesses across the country have already qualified for loans. In fact, in Louisiana, we’ve seen more than 17,000 businesses, small and medium size, all less than 500 employees, that have qualified for the Paycheck Protection Program.
Unfortunately, today, just a few hours ago, that program ran out of money. This is something we’ve been working on in Congress to renew to get additional funding. It started off with $349 billion and, in just a few weeks, that program’s completely been exhausted. Today, they just stopped accepting those applications, but there are a lot more businesses out there. In Louisiana, there are thousands more businesses that need that relief. We want those businesses to come back.
Really, what this money does, at least 75% of the money has to be used to pay workers, to pay the employees so that you don’t have millions more people on the unemployment lines like we just saw another five and a half million people join the unemployment rolls. Hopefully, we start seeing some of those people come back as these grants get approved, these applications get approved, and then those small businesses get that money and start bringing their workers back. Then they’ll be on the company’s salary payroll. They’ll be on the company’s health insurance.
That’s really the intention of the program. It’s why we’re pushing to get additional funding. The president’s asked for $251 billion more. We’ve been working with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and his team. I know negotiations are ongoing as we speak, both Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, working with the White House to try to get an agreement. Hopefully, we get that agreement soon in the next few days because, again, as of today, the program’s run out of money, yet there are thousands more businesses, I know here in Louisiana, that still need that relief because, as we start looking towards the recovery… and that’s really where the focus has started to shift. I’ve been on many calls, for the last few weeks, with everybody from our local restaurateurs to the heads of some of the biggest companies in the world that are starting to look towards the next step, to safely come back.
Let’s keep in mind, when we talk about reopening the economy, and I know the governor and I have talked about this as well as many others, we’re not talking about picking a choice between safety and economic recovery. You can do both, and we have to do both. I’ve talked to a lot of health experts, and the good news is we’ve got some great health minds here in Louisiana. It was really good to see Warner Thomas, the head of Oschner Hospital, at the White House just a few days ago working with the president on a plan to share ventilators. For those communities that have an abundance of ventilators today, where other communities have a need, they can share and move those around the country. Hospitals have come to an agreement to do that, and Warner was at the forefront of that.
We’ve also talked about how to reopen the economy in a safe way, things like testing more. There are a lot of different types of tests that are getting approved at rapid speed. This is something that’s been an encouraging sign, to break through a lot of the red tape at agencies like the FDA that used to be notoriously slow at approving new drugs or new testing techniques. There are clear safety reasons why it takes a lot of time, but sometimes the delay in time to get a 99% accuracy rate when you can get a 95% accuracy rate in a much quicker time and, hopefully, help and save a lot more people.
You’ve seen that rapid pace of the FDA to approve, for example, the Abbott test that we’ve seen. Clearly, there’s an extra demand on those testing kits, and so they’re making more. I know communities need more, but now there’s a new saliva test. There are more things that are being done, even the temperature gauges that are being done in a lot of places.
When you talk to the heads of sports leagues and, clearly, opening up, we want to go to a Saints game again. I want to go see the Pelicans, see Zion out there playing again. I’ve talked to Coach O, and he wants to get back out in Tiger Stadium, and he doesn’t want it to be an empty Tiger Stadium where the Tigers are going and beating whoever is going to be out there on the field. We want a full stadium.
People know, when we come back, it’s going to probably be a gradual pace where people are taking extra precautions and then, ultimately, getting to a place where we have a lot more comfort level that this disease isn’t going to spread like it has spread before and we can do more things to contain it. That work is being done on rapid pace, even finding cures. When you look at things like malaria drugs or lupus drugs that are pre-approved by the FDA for other uses but now are being tried, and successfully in many cases, clearly not in all, but in many cases, and I’ve seen direct examples of people who were cured of coronavirus from some of those other pre-approved drugs. Those are things that the medical community is moving up at light speed to address, and so that’s encouraging to see.
The IRS just started, yesterday, processing and sending out checks to families, the component of the CARES Act that puts direct money into the pockets of families so that they have money to pay their rent, money to buy food, money to do the things that they need to do when they might have lost their job or have reduced hours. Those checks just started going in yesterday. This process is going to go in the next few weeks as more and more people see that it’s something you don’t have to pre- apply for if you’ve got an account with the IRS. If you’ve paid taxes before, they have your information. Over 60% of Americans already have their automatic paycheck deposit information on file with the IRS, so those checks will be automatically deposited.
Just today, the IRS put up a new portal so that, if you don’t have automatic deposit, you can save yourself maybe a few weeks of getting that check if you just go online to irs.gov. They’ve got a coronavirus button that you can click on and go through a lot of information about this, whether you’ve never filed taxes before and you’re eligible, you can qualify, or if you just want to get your checking account information put into the system so that the IRS can automatically deposit it. You can do all of that today, starting today, through their portal. That’s going to help a lot of families get through this as well.
Finally, just to touch on what the governor talked about, I was honored today to formally be asked by the president to join his task force to reopen the economy. This is a task force that includes some of the biggest business leaders in the world. It’s a bipartisan group. There are about 20 members of Congress that are going to be on this task force too, both Republican and Democrat. I was on a call this morning with the president and the vice president and some of my colleagues talking about the economic recovery, and I was sharing with the president some of the ideas that I’ve heard from people in the medical community about how to better test so that you can start opening up parts of the economy in a safe way.
All of this is going to be put together. We’re working in conjunction with the governors and, clearly, they’re going to play an important role just like what we do in Congress is going to play an important role to get things back to the way they were. We are going to come back. We know we’ve been through disasters before in Louisiana. Unfortunately, we have more experience than others in dealing with disasters, and we’ve dealt with those of all kind. We’re a resilient people, but our country is full of resilient people as well. You see those examples everywhere.
We do want to get back to our way of life. When we start getting out again, we know it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know we’re going to have to take extra precautions. We can’t get complacent, but we can start getting back to work, and we can start planning that in a smart and effective way. I’m looking forward to doing that work in the coming weeks as we continue to work with the state and our local officials to get through this and to address the problems that come up along the way.
Governor, it’s great to be with you-
John Bel Edwards: (29:21)
… and on behalf of our whole delegation which, again, has been working incredibly well together to help get the state the things that are needed while we work on the issues at the federal level as well. With that, turn it back over.
John Bel Edwards: (29:32)
Thank you. Okay, so couple of questions we’re going to answer. Then we’re going to take your questions. The first one comes from Covington and from June. She says, “As the stay-at-home order comes closer to June 1st, which is the beginning of hurricane season, what is being discussed about evacuation procedures since some of our neighboring states have restrictions on us entering their states?”
John Bel Edwards: (30:01)
First of all, it’s a great question. I don’t know that the stay-at-home order will be in effect. In fact, it won’t be in effect on June 1st, I don’t believe, in the way it currently looks, but we know that we’re going to be still be dealing with COVID-19 on June the 1st as we get into hurricane season. What I want to tell everybody is some of the things that we have to do every year apply this year and probably apply even more so, so get a game plan. Make sure that you go to getagameplan.org and you follow those instructions so that you can put yourself in your family in the best possible position to withstand a hurricane.
John Bel Edwards: (30:43)
Secondly, we’re not going to be postured the same this year, and so when we look at hurricane preparations and our planning, for example, to shelter the same number of people, we’re going to have to have multiple shelters so that we can practice social distancing inside of the shelters. We’re going to need to provide PPE. We’re going to have to have additional medical personnel in any shelter that we open. There’s all sorts of things that we’re going to have to consider. We actually have already planned and, on May the 14th, we’re going to do an exercise here at GOHSEP, and it will be integrated with the National Weather Service. We have FEMA onsite, and they’ve been on site now for over a month, every day, here as we work through these things together.
John Bel Edwards: (31:32)
It is a great question. You never know exactly what’s going to happen, but we should have more time because, typically, it’s the August-September portion of hurricane season when you see the strongest and the most hurricanes. Obviously, this could be the year where we see one on June the 1st, so we’re going to be prepared, but hopefully, that won’t happen, but that’s a great question, June. Then, from Lafayette parish, Buddy asks, “Are we seeing a backlog of-
John Bel Edwards: (32:03)
Then from Lafayette parish, Buddy asks, are we seeing a backlog of outstanding COVID-19 test results or has the backlog cleared? With over 90% of the tests coming in every day coming in from non-state labs, it’s hard for us to say that we have a complete picture of what’s going on. We know that two days ago, just two days ago, we had over 10,000 tests that came in on one day. That’s the most that we’ve ever had. Probably had something to do with the Easter weekend. And so that was probably the clearing of a backlog. But the number of cases that we see … I’m sorry, the number of tests that we see in forming our data going forward should be more uniform. But even today we had over 7,000 … I’m sorry, 4,600 tests. And that’s more in line with what we saw yesterday.
John Bel Edwards: (32:55)
So we should see that that number taper out, and of course we’re trying to increase our testing capacity every single day and we’re having some success with that. And in fact, it remains the case that we believe we still have the most testing per capita in the country and if not New York has eclipsed us, but by just a very, very slight amount. And that was essential because as you know, early on we had the fastest growth in COVID cases anywhere in the world. And so having the most possible testing is important. And by the way, every day the results get reported, whether it’s state lab or private labs, to us here at the state, the Department of Health and every single test result gets reported to the CDC as well so that they have visibility on what we’re doing. So with that we will open it up for questions, and obviously we have our Dr. B who’s here that can answer questions. We have Congressman Scelese. Yes sir?
Speaker 4: (33:58)
On the chart you showed with the various projections, you said we’re on the lowest one, the purple line. I guess the peak looks like it’s in July. And if we’re going to start opening the economy before then, you know it looks like about double the number of people can get infected if we just go back to the blue line, which is effective social distancing, Do you have projections for how many more people are going to be impacted when we started looking the economy back up? Can we return to the blue line for instance?
John Bel Edwards: (34:27)
Well, first of all we’re going to try to do things to make sure we don’t do that and that’s why we’re still working through this. We’re trying to get CDC guidance. We learn more about this virus, we learned more about its transmission, we learn more about the disease every single day. And so when we open up more of our economy, we’re going to do so in a way, as Congressman Scelese indicated, where we protect public health as we do so. That’s why things are not going to look just like they did before. Occupancy limits in various establishment will will be reduced. You’re going to see people wearing PPE, you’re going to see social distancing. We’re going to require that people stay home if they are sick. Continue to do all the things around hygiene that we’ve been talking about, and then critically important, and we need to ramp up this capacity as quickly as possible, do more testing so that we can find out sooner when someone has COVID-19 then do the contact tracing.
John Bel Edwards: (35:41)
… Flatten. Bu you raise a good point because we know COVID doesn’t go away on on May the first and if we’re not smart, and if people just want to get back to life as normal and they ignore everything that we’re putting out, then you know that you do go back to one of these other trajectories where, where we don’t want to be, and you’re going to know a lot more soon about how we’re going to reopen. And I know that that’s the topic that a lot of people want to talk about today. Quite frankly, we just don’t have a lot of the answers yet because we’re still working through this. We’ve got a video telephone conference today with the president. CDC guidance is going to be coming out. This task force that I talked about is going to be informing the decisions that we make. And at all times we will make sure that we’re hearing from the medical community as well. And I mentioned this earlier and I’ve talked to Congress Scelese about this. It is a very important sector of our economy, but it also deals directly with health.
John Bel Edwards: (36:45)
It is my expectation that the first part of our economy that we stand back up, and again it’s going to still look different, will be the clinics and the hospitals with respect to non-emergency medical procedures and surgeries, because there’s only so long you can put those things off before a percentage of them become emergency conditions and before you’re impacting the overall health of those individuals that then make them more susceptible to COVID-19 going forward. And we know it’s also a big part of the economy because healthcare is a huge sector of our economy here in the state of Louisiana, and nationally as well. So we’re going to be doing that first, and quite frankly, I’d like to be able to do a lot of that before May the first, but it’s going to look different the next time you go to the clinic for whatever clinic you happen to be going to. You’re going to see social distancing, you’re going to likely be required to wear a mask.
John Bel Edwards: (37:43)
You may have to sit in the car until you’re called and you’re told to come in so that we don’t have people congregating in waiting rooms and there’s going to be a whole lot of other things that I can’t even begin to do envision right now. That’s what we’re working through right now. And I’m going to get a report or set of recommendations from the department of health soon about what that’s going to look like. But I know that it’s my obligation to let all of our hospitals, all of our clinics and know in advance what these restrictions are going to look like, so that they have time to prepare. They’re going to need to be able to call staff in, they’re going to need to be able to schedule the procedures. They’re going to need to be able to clean their facilities and make sure the PPE is on hand and all of those sorts of things. And that’s just with respect to healthcare, and then you’re going to see all sorts of things with respect to the other sectors of our economy. There’s nothing easy about this.
Speaker 5: (38:37)
How long until widespread testing? I keep hearing how that’s the key to reopening the economy, but it just seems like, as a practical matter, just to scale up, to get the kits to where they need to be and then to process it all.
John Bel Edwards: (38:49)
I’ll ask Dr. B to come and address how long. We’re not going to wait until we have the testing we want in order to make changes to the orders that are in place right now. But it is fair to say that with more testing, the surveillance testing, the diagnostic testing related to the virus, and then the antibody testing related to immunity, all of that plays a big role going forward. And as you have more testing, then you can do more things to open the economy and do so without the cases spiking because you’re just going to have a better feel for what’s going on out there, and you’re going to be able to isolate those individuals who have the disease, quarantine those with whom they’ve come into contact, and really open things back up. We pray that that immunity really is conferred upon people who have antibodies from the disease and that they can’t get it a second time. By the way, we don’t know that yet, but that’s a pretty educated guess, and the antibody tests are going to be critically important for that.
John Bel Edwards: (39:56)
You should remember what Dr. B said yesterday, antibody tests potentially can measure whether you have antibodies to a coronavirus. The common cold is caused by a coronavirus. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re testing for antibodies that have been developed as an immune response to this novel coronavirus to COVID-19, and so not just any antibody test is going to do. And then when we come up with the right tests that are reliable, then they have to be mass produced the way that we want them. So all this is going to take some time, but we’re not going to wait until all of that is in place before we start reengaging different sectors of our economy. But it is fair to say that until we have more testing, until we have therapeutic treatments, until we have a vaccine, you’re going to see a transition over time, over months and potentially up to a year, year and a half, whatever that looks like until we get all the way there, we’re just going to be living in a new normal. Dr B?
Dr. B: (41:00)
Thank you governor. Yeah, so we actually have widespread testing in certain communities across the state already. We’ve been working hard with partners outside of the, state’s lab, major health systems, the Oschner Health System here in Baton Rouge, the LSU Veterinary School stood up what was a previously a research lab in record time and was able to process clinical samples, LSU Shreveport developing their own samples, able to do a high volume of tests. What we want to see is more of that high volume testing capacity in other parts of the state. Early on when we were in a mitigation phase, we were really focused on how do we understand how much COVID is in the community. That’s where you saw drive through testing sites in communities, especially urban communities across the state. What we know now is that the volume at those sites are decreasing.
Dr. B: (41:49)
We stood up new sites in the river parishes that actually have good, robust volume, but if you look at what’s going on in Lake Charles, Lafayette, even here in East Baton Rouge, we know that the demand for those testing sites are down and that’s a good thing. That means that we’re seeing less COVID in the communities, fewer people who are developing symptoms. What we want to do now is move to a stance where we can do suppression, and suppression means that we have to have capacity in really regions across the state where, as we identify a new case, we can quickly do contact tracing, test everybody else around that person who may have symptoms, and process those samples quickly so that we can continue to make that ring larger and larger. Although those people being told specifically to stay home, that’s what’s going to allow us to keep our public spaces freer of COVID and allow us to resume.
John Bel Edwards: (42:37)
By the way, we’re seeing some great things in Louisiana. So we have 3D printing of swabs because swabs are in short supply across the country. In order to take the specimen and have them tested, and we’re still short reagent and that’s a problem across the country as well. But over time, all of these things are being addressed and our capacity is ramping up and I don’t want to fail to do this. I appreciate the Herculean efforts that had been made in the state of Louisiana by the private sector, by our hospitals, by our clinics, by the Department of Health, because we have the most tests being administered in the United States of America on a per capita basis. And while it’s not as robust as we would like, the fact that we went from where we were to where we are, is really commendable. So I want to thank Dr. B and all the folks who’ve been working on that. Leo?
Just have a question for you and the congressman about-
John Bel Edwards: (43:40)
I’m going to let the Congressman go first then.
You saw the [inaudible 00:43:46] Tuesday and it said that … The Zika epidemiologist said that it looks like we’re going to have to continue watching this even if it’s apparently eliminated the virus through the year 2024, and they’re recommending social distancing through 2022, if in fact it’s going to take that long to get a back seat. In your discussions with the White House, have they discussed that scenario or this study and what would be the plan?
Congressman Scelese: (44:10)
Well, and to go back on what the governor just mentioned, we’re learning more about this disease every single day. Medical experts are coming up with better ways to confront this disease, to treat it in some cases, and ultimately still working towards the vaccine. But in the meantime, through social distancing, we’ve seen that we can reduce the spread of the disease and it’s been very successful. But we also know you can’t keep the economy closed for six months or until 2024 there will be no economy left. And do we want to see 25% unemployment? I don’t think that’s where we want to go. So we know we’ve got to be smarter about confronting it.
Congressman Scelese: (44:44)
So it’s not a question of whether or not the disease is going to go away. Of course, just like the flu comes back every flu season, we expect that this is going to boomerang back again in the fall sometime. And so you’ve got to start taking those precautions now to figure out how to live with COVID-19 in our society, but while also being safer to confront it. And then in the meantime, for anybody to suggest that they know what’s going to happen November of this year, let alone what’s going to look like in 2024. I hope and pray that our medical experts who are working incredibly hard will find a cure for this, will find a vaccine that works again. They’ve already found a number of therapies that are preapproved by the FDA that do work for some patients on this. Not all obviously, but on some it’s worked.
Congressman Scelese: (45:28)
I’ve heard the direct stories from friends of mine who had COVID-19 and were struggling, some were on ventilators, and then they took some of those drugs for things like malaria or for lupus and literally the next day they were off the ventilator and got to go out of the hospital and go back home. And so we’re learning more every day. To think we’re going to know what’s, what’s going to happen in 2024 let alone frankly by July of this year, I think we’re going to know a lot more and have better ways to protect ourselves and our families from this disease just because of the breakthroughs that are happening as we speak. Not just the testing, but the actual cures that are being found.
John Bel Edwards: (46:04)
And I really don’t have anything to add to that. We have not had, in our conversation with the vice president or the president, any specific discussions about that particular study, but as these studies come out, I’m sure that they will inform what the CDC does in terms of the guidance that they give us and so forth. Yes ma’am?
Speaker 6: (46:28)
Governor, on the resiliency commission, obviously you’re going to be making decisions about reopening the economy much sooner then task force would seem to suggest that it would come up with recommendations, or have you set some sort of short term deadlines for when you want feedback from them or are you just assuming that you will be making those decisions early on and they’ll be doing more of the long term sort of-
John Bel Edwards: (46:54)
Well, it’s really going to be both. Obviously, because of the amount of time we have, they’re going to have limited ability to inform the decisions I’m going to make that will be effective on May the first. But that is not to say that they won’t have the ability to weigh in before then at all. But this is going to be a transition. And there could be multiple steps over a longer period of time than you might imagine to fully stand our economy back up by sector.
John Bel Edwards: (47:23)
So what we’re looking for is, in every sector, for them to tell us how they believe they can successfully and safely re-engage these sectors, open them back up in ways that are safe for workers and safe for the public that are not going to cause our cases to spike. We will then be looking at CDC guidance and talking to our own experts at the Department of Health to try to validate all of that, and then we’re going to move forward. And quite frankly, let me just tell you, because we’re human beings, and certainly I know I am, we’re going to make some mistakes, but the testing will allow us to quickly-
John Bel Edwards: (48:03)
… mistakes. But the testing will allow us to quickly determine if we’ve made a mistake. And then do a course correction. And if the testing shows that the cases are not spiking, and then as we learn more, we’re going to continue to move down the path and actually get a little further and a little faster than would otherwise be the case.
John Bel Edwards: (48:21)
But Don, why don’t you come up and just answer… Because I’ve got Don here for questions. The role that you see the task force playing in the short term, and then over the longer term as well.
Speaker 7: (48:34)
And then on that point, do you see the aid that… I mean, the state’s obviously getting 1.8 billion dollars from congress. Do you see the commission making recommendations on how to use some of that money perhaps to help businesses?
That’s the beauty of getting this commission established. We are now going to have a way to gather, analyze and communicate this information. The commission obviously will be the governance here. But the real work’s going to be done by 15 task force in these various economic sectors across the board. So which ones get engaged early on. Certainly healthcare, healthcare delivery and others. Restaurants, retail, small business, all of these will get a look. We’ll have the opportunity with the participation of the private sector using a lot of programs out there that are identified as best practices and integrate those, bring them back. Then do the communication.
Whether it’s a recommendation to the governor. Whether it’s a recommendation to legislature. Perhaps to congregational delegation. The important features to build both a short term and longer term resilience in economy is what we’ll seek to achieve.
Speaker 7: (49:48)
How much of this can be done by executive order versus legislation? It seems like that’s where things could get bogged down pretty quick.
Well certainly it’s going to take an entire quilt of all of these elements. An example would be say the participation by the restaurant association in a task force relating to restaurants. We’re not really looking at perhaps trying to deploy resources that belong to the state. We’re trying to gather these information and best practices and then communicate those clearly back down to these stakeholder groups. So whether it’s the chemical association, the lobby, NFIB, all are going to be participating in this in a meaningful way.
Speaker 7: (50:29)
I mean does the governor have the authority to say, “Okay, restaurants can reopen if you space out your tables every six feet or take half your seating capacity out.” Can you do that? Or do you get-
John Bel Edwards: (50:39)
The answer is yes.
Speaker 7: (50:40)
John Bel Edwards: (50:40)
So long as we have a public health emergency in place that I declare, then we have the authority to do these things. That’s really the only way that this can work. But I’m not just relying upon my authority exercised without consideration and input from the people who are being regulated by that. Which is why we’re having this task force stand up. So that we’re going to be talking to restaurants, we’re going to be talking to bars, we’re going to be talking to grocery stores and manufacturing facilities and the like. But the answer is yes. Yes?
Speaker 8: (51:22)
Governor, some other states are tracking the number of healthcare workers who have been infected with Coronavirus. Do you have data here? Are you guys tracking that? Do you know how many healthcare workers [crosstalk 00:51:30].
John Bel Edwards: (51:30)
I do not. I will tell you, I had a conversation on this last night with Scott Wester who’s CEO of the Franciscan Missionary or our Lady here in Baton Rouge. He gave me an extraordinarily low number of individuals that worked for him or in his facilities who’ve contracted COVID-19. And I think he told me that all of them had actually contracted it somewhere other than in the hospital setting. Now, I don’t know that that’s representative of the experience that’s taking place in, for example, Ochsner and LCMC and so forth. Or up in Shreveport if the LSU system or Willis Knighton. Do you have any information?
John Bel Edwards: (52:21)
I do not. What I can tell you is, I have no reason to believe, and quite frankly, I don’t know how accurate some of the stories are that are coming out of places like New York. And I have no doubt that you have healthcare workers who have been exposed and who have contracted the virus. But I don’t know how accurate those stories have been. The reports that I have gotten here in Louisiana, I don’t have any numbers compiled, say that it hasn’t been anywhere near what you’re seeing on the national media.
John Bel Edwards: (52:52)
And I will tell you, our workers are heroes. We’re doing everything we can to try to help them have the PPE so that they can safely go to work and do their jobs. I know that their employers, these hospitals are doing everything that they can as well.
Speaker 9: (53:09)
Governor, I know you and Dr. B both mention that part of reopening society is contact [inaudible 00:53:16]. I know that places with large virus clusters, like at nursing homes and things like that. My question is, is there an investigation into any virus clusters at Life Tabernacle Church in Central?
John Bel Edwards: (53:31)
I am not aware of any investigation. Yes, sir?
Speaker 10: (53:38)
Do you have any modeling for other parts of the state? You showed some for New Orleans, but we know perhaps the peak in Baton Rouge may be later. Or where are things [crosstalk 00:53:46].
John Bel Edwards: (53:46)
We do. So we do have modeling. The good news is, there’s not a region of our state where we expect over the next 14 days. And we use 14 days because modeling, the further you get out, the less accurate it is and the less you can really use it as a planning tool for allocation of resources and so forth. But in no region of the state do we believe that we’re going to exceed our capacity to deliver healthcare in terms of beds, in terms of ICU beds, in terms of ventilators. So that’s really important.
John Bel Edwards: (54:17)
We do believe that there are certain regions of the state where the transmission rate is a little more than 1.3 based on some of the factors that we’re looking at. But all are trending down close to the 1. 3 level which is actually, as I mentioned earlier, much better than where we thought we were going to be a month ago. So you make your decisions based on your modeling because it’s the only information you have when you have to pull the trigger. Because if you think three weeks from today, for some reason you’re going to exceed your capacity with respect to beds and ventilators, well you got to do something about that.
John Bel Edwards: (54:58)
Which is why we went ahead with the Morial Convention Center, for example, that does have 105 patients in it, by the way today, and so forth. But you make your decisions based on what you know and when you know it and the time that you have to actually stand up a facility to address the need that you think that’s going to be generated by the disease. And the whole time we were doing that, we were stressing the first order imperative which was to flatten the curve. And quite frankly, when you see that graph that was up there a while ago, you can see that the people of Louisiana flattened that curve. And that pushed out the peak further in time. That gives us more time to continue to increase our medical capacity, and to potentially, as we learn more about the disease and the virus, to take other mitigation measures so that hopefully that peak never happens either.
John Bel Edwards: (55:54)
But we do have modeling as it relates to other regions and that’s going to be shared by the Department of Health. I think maybe after this they’re going to have some information about the various regions. [crosstalk 00:56:07] So we’re going to… All right.
Speaker 11: (56:09)
One question for congressman Scalise about the PPP real quick. What would you say to small businesses that I know are still trying to get their money. You’re out of the 750, you’re hoping to reach a deal on the next 250. But the current burn rate, that’s gone by maybe next Thursday at this time. What beyond that? And what do you say to those that are still desperate for this money?
Steve Scalise: (56:29)
Well, it’s a lifeline for so many small businesses. I mean we’ve heard from trade groups. I did a call last week with my [Whip 00:56:35] team. We had the heads of the US chamber and the business round table, National Association of Manufacturers and NFIB. These are the heads of all the biggest, smallest companies in the world. They will tell you that if this goes on much longer, there are probably half of the businesses in this country that won’t come back. And you’re talking about maybe another month of the economy being completely closed. A lot of those businesses just won’t be able to hang on even if there’s more federal help. And I think we need to get the PPP renewed, that extra 251 billion. Let’s see how that works through. But at a minimum, as you now have more and more businesses recognizing how important this is to hold them on, it also shows you we do have to start opening the economy up in a smarter way.
Steve Scalise: (57:20)
And again, there doesn’t need to be an exact timeline today. But as the governor said, starting to get those hospitals back up and running is going to be critical. Because elective surgeries are not just what keep the hospitals running, but it also is what saves lives. I mean, you’re talking right now about… I’ve talked to, we have a number of medical doctors in congress. They will tell you that right now if you’re not taking and going to get your mammogram or going and getting your colonoscopy, that could detect early something that could be treatable and save your life. Whereas if you put that off for two months because the hospital can’t do that procedure, that might be the difference between life and death.
Steve Scalise: (57:55)
And so getting the economy back up and running in a safe, smart way is the real remedy. There’s no endless supply of money that you can expect to keep businesses afloat when they have absolutely no cash flow. So we’ve got to be focused on how to smartly do it. And again, there are a lot of medical experts that are coming up with good techniques. And businesses are looking at that. The heads of sport leagues, you can imagine that the NFL, the NBA on down are all having conversations about how can you have large gatherings. That’s their business model. They’ve got very smart people as we speak working on really good ways to come back while safely allowing people to go into a sports arena to watch the saints play, to watch LSU play.
Steve Scalise: (58:33)
And so we’re going to learn from all of the different. We’re all talking to each other. Everybody’s got good ideas about how to do it. But the real remedy is to get the economy opened back up as soon as we possibly can in a safe way.
John Bel Edwards: (58:47)
And not only are there multiple members of congress who are medical doctors, there are two in our congressional delegation. I’ve actually had an opportunity to speak to senator Cassidy and to representative Abraham, both of whom have told me we really need to prioritize getting our hospitals and our clinics back open with a full aray of services as best we can. And I’ll give you another reason to do it. We’ve been talking about the fact that we have, 33% of our population is African American whereas more than 60% of the deaths are among African Americans. And we know that that’s because of chronic underlying health conditions like hypertension and diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease, and so forth.
John Bel Edwards: (59:32)
In order to put that part of our population in the best possible position to withstand this disease, they need to be seeing their doctors too. And they need to be as healthy as they can be, even if they’ve got those conditions. And so we know we’re going to have to do this and we’re going to do it first and we’re going to do it smart. Are we going to make mistakes? Yeah, but we’ll learn from those and we’re going to make adjustments and move forward.
John Bel Edwards: (59:57)
Okay, so one more question. Unless nobody’s got one. Right here, yes sir.
Speaker 12: (01:00:03)
What is the best case scenario as far as economic recovery, and how many businesses reopen, what businesses look like three, four, five months from now?
John Bel Edwards: (01:00:13)
I don’t know that I’m prepared to give you an answer. Obviously we want more economic activity than less. We want more people going back to work than fewer. We actually had the fourth fastest growing economy in the country when this public health emergency hit us. We know that unemployment has skyrocketed here like it has across the country. We know that small businesses are struggling and I’m encouraging them to take advantage of the paycheck protection program and the next installment of it. And to understand that those loans are forgivable under certain circumstances. That’s an incentive to try to make sure that you keep people on your payroll and that you’re continuing to pay them so they don’t become unemployed and so forth.
John Bel Edwards: (01:01:07)
But I don’t have a timeline for you on exactly what that looks like. But I think the congressman was exactly right and it sort of speaks for itself that the sooner you can reengage the various economic sectors and get people back to work and businesses back open, the sooner you’re going to get back to full capacity. Which is everybody’s goal. And the less the damage that’s going to be inflicted between now and then. Because just like we talk about these numbers being real people who are in the hospital, real people who are dying. Unemployment numbers, those are real people, too. And those are families that are struggling. Those are business men and women who’ve had their life’s work in their business and those are their dreams and so forth. And so it’s just incredibly important.
John Bel Edwards: (01:02:05)
I happen to believe that the people of Louisiana and the United States are very resourceful and resilient. And I think that as we find safe ways to allow them to open up, you’re going to see them be very innovative. And they’re going to find out new and better ways to have people working from home, for example, and still be as productive. You’re going to see innovation in our country and in our state like you’ve never seen before. Because necessity is the mother of invention, right? Or something like that. Is that it?
Steve Scalise: (01:02:40)
John Bel Edwards: (01:02:41)
And so I think you’re going to see that in this case, too. And that’s actually something that I think is going to serve us well for a long time going forward. Because we’re going to find out new and better ways to become more efficient and more resilient.
John Bel Edwards: (01:02:56)
So I want to thank y’all again for coming out today. Tomorrow I will be doing a press conference at 3:00 PM.
Speaker 7: (01:03:04)
John Bel Edwards: (01:03:06)
From LSU at the Pmac, go Tigers. Where they are manufacturing some PPE. And so we’re going to be there. We’ll tour the facility and then we’ll do a press conference from there. So thank you all very much.