Apr 23, 2020
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards Briefing Transcript April 23
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards held a coronavirus press conference today, April 23. He said the first details of reopening the state will be coming Monday. Read the full transcript here.
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General Joseph L. Lengyel: (00:00)
These numbers are continuing to rise. Over the next week or so, we will cross 50,000 I think men and women of the National Guard who are called to duty for our nation by the governors in their states.
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (00:11)
We have not had a response this large from the National Guard since 2005 and Katrina when we did have men and women from every state and every territory participate in the events here in Katrina, more than 50,000 since that event. This event in every state, the difference being this is happening in every state, not just in the Gulf Region of Louisiana that’s happening. This is obviously a historic event. It’s requiring a historic response.
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (00:44)
I need to just express my supreme gratitude and admiration for the men and women who serve. Where our nation finds these men and women who will both maintain their lives as civilian and yet don this uniform as the Governor needs them or as the President needs them to come to serve our country, to come and serve our states and our towns and our homes, it is something special. We should be as a nation, among with the other first responders and those who are doing the responsiveness thing, very grateful. We thank their families. We thank their spouses. We thank their employers who share them with our nation to come when our nation needs them to come away from their civilian occupations.
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (01:28)
I thought that the Governor mentioned Louisiana is no stranger to needing the National Guard to respond here in the homeland. Condolences to the families who lost someone just in the tornadoes here in Louisiana just last night. As the Governor mentioned here, four years ago for floods, numerous hurricanes between then and now. The Louisiana apparatus, it is the hub as a National Guard organization for where we bring together all of the nation every year to plan for the all hazards-type responses that we have learned so much about from responding here in this part of the country. Not just tornadoes, National Guard members are on duty with cyber activities, ransomware, all the like. The unique apparatus of what we’re doing, not just soldiers or airmen, but we are Guardsmen and that special piece of the Guardsmen that allows us to come to duty when our governors need them makes us special.
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (02:28)
I just would mention one last thing in closing is, it’s not what we do in our military specialty that is always so valuable, but it’s the innovation, it’s the skill sets that are members of the National Guard bring with them from their civilian lives into the tasks that the Governor asks them to do when they put this uniform on. Whether it’s just in this warehouse that I just visited that has on display an innovative way to distribute high-value medical apparatuses around the state at a moment’s notice should people need them.
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (03:04)
Whether it’s an infantry man who’s actually running a testing facility or whether it’s someone else that is a truck driver or an intelligence officer that happens to be working in a food bank, which I came today from the Baton Rouge food bank to see 2 million pounds of foods have been distributed to all the parishes here in Louisiana. It is a unique contribution. As military components go, the National Guard was built for this. If you were going to design a component that could do both the war fighting mission and the domestic operation missions, you would invent who we are and what we are doing today all across the nation and here in Louisiana as the National Guard.
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (03:48)
Thank you all very much for letting me say. With that, I’ll be happy to take any questions you might have.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (03:58)
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (03:58)
Nothing, letting me off easy.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (03:59)
Y’all saving up for me, huh?
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (04:02)
Governor John Bel Edwards: (04:03)
General, thank you so very much.
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (04:05)
Thank you, Governor. Thank you very much for letting me come.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (04:06)
I appreciate you.
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (04:07)
I appreciate it.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (04:07)
Come back when we know I have a disaster.
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (04:09)
I will. Thank you, sir. Thanks, everybody.
Speaker 1: (04:11)
General Joseph L. Lengyel: (04:11)
Thank you, General.
Speaker 1: (04:12)
Speaker 2: (04:16)
Speaker 3: (04:16)
Thank you, General.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (04:18)
Before I get to today’s COVID-19 numbers and the General mentioned this, we did have two deaths yesterday and overnight that we believe were related to the severe weather. One of the deaths in Rapides Parish, likely the result of a tornado. The second was in DeSoto Parish, a victim of flash flooding, an individual drown. We also had thousands of people who were left without power due to the storms. Numerous structures were damaged, some very severely, especially the LSU Ag facility there in Alexandria, which the main building appeared to be destroyed. There was some damage as well at the Mega Shelter in Alexandria, which we use as a mass evacuation shelter for example in a hurricane. It was not damaged significantly, but we are going to have to do some work there ahead of hurricane season to make sure that it is fully operational.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (05:21)
Of note, the severe weather actually continues today in Southeast Louisiana as the storms push their way across the Central Gulf Coast. Obviously, our hearts go out to the families who were affected by the severe weather, especially those who lost a loved one. I know that people have a lot on their minds already with the COVID-19 pandemic that we’re all going through. But I do continue to encourage all Louisianans to pay attention to the weather today and going forward. Watch your forecasts, pay attention to the notices and to the advisories. Make sure that you’ve got your cell phone where you can monitor it for warnings, when there is an enhanced risk of severe weather.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (06:08)
We’ve had a lot of inquiries about what we’re doing to try to make sure that as we plan for the hurricane season that starts on July 1st that we make sure that we are intentional and deliberate about how we approach this hurricane season because of the posture we’re in, which is very different because of COVID-19. We are going to have exercises here at GOHSEP, working with all of the offices of emergency preparedness and all of our state agencies with the various emergency support functions in an exercise that will be facilitated by the National Weather Service and so forth. We fully plan to flesh that out. We’ll do so in coordination with FEMA as well.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (06:53)
I just ask everyone to continue to be mindful of the fact that the severe weather seems to be happening more frequently and with more severity. Please pay attention and get a game plan. Go to getagameplan.org so that you can prepare yourself and your family. It is more important than ever that you prepare yourself and your family. You can go to getagameplan.org. It will tell you how to do that.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (07:21)
Shifting back now to today’s COVID update, we are reporting 481 new cases today for a total of 25,739. We’re also reporting 67 new deaths very sadly, which brings the statewide total to 1,540. [General 00:07:44] Lengyel spoke a moment ago about Hurricane Katrina. It’s my understanding that the confirmed death count now from this coronavirus pandemic exceeds the death count that was attributable to Hurricane Katrina, just for a little historical context there.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (08:04)
We are reporting that there are 1,727 COVID-positive patients in our hospitals. That is a decrease of 20 from yesterday. Ventilator usage by COVID patients is 274, that’s a decrease of 13. It appears that cases have flattened and hospitalizations and vent usage have decreased. That’s been pretty steady over the last several days.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (08:32)
I do have some questions from the public before I get to your questions, Mike from Jennings asked if I see the senior class of 2021 participating in fall sports at the start of the 2021 school season? Look, I’ve said it before. I’m a huge sports enthusiast. It’s hard for me to envision a fall without football. If for no other reasons than just being aspirational, it is my hope that we can do that. But, I don’t …
Governor John Bel Edwards: (09:03)
No, it is my hope that we can do that, but I don’t really have the ability right now, in April, to see that far forward and know what the circumstances are going to be. But, rest assured the Louisiana Hospital Athletic Association with all of its member principals, will be making the best decisions they can about whether it’s safe to resume athletics, and if so, under what conditions. And what I can say with some confidence is that, in the event that we have fall athletics, whether it’s high school or college or otherwise, it’s not going to look exactly the same as it did the last fall. Because, we fully expect that there will continue to be some social distancing requirements and protective measures that we will ask individuals to exercise, for their benefit and the benefit of others as well. And the Department of Education, will be working on exactly what the school year will look like, working with the CDC and others at the Department of Health here in Louisiana, to make sure that they do what’s in the best interest of our students, that adequately protects public health and safety.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (10:16)
Rose, from Napoleonville, asks, “Is there medical assistance available for employees who’ve been laid off?” If you have lost your job or had your hours reduced and therefore your income reduced, you may be eligible for Medicaid now. After we did the Medicaid expansion, that eligibility criteria is 138% of the federal poverty level, so there are individuals out there who may not have been eligible before but are eligible now. And you can apply for Medicaid online at mymedicaid.la.gov, that’s mymedicaid.la.gov, or call (888) 342-6207, that’s (888) 342- 6207, to inquire about your eligibility. During the federal and the state declared public health emergency, Louisiana Medicaid is keeping members covered. Current Medicaid members will not lose coverage for any reason other than their death, permanently moving out of state, or requesting to have their coverage ended. Additionally, the federal stimulus check issued under the CARES Act will not impact Medicaid eligibility, so will not count towards that cap of 138% of the federal poverty level. So, with that, I am going to open up for questions. Leo, in the back.
Thank you, governor. Governor Cuomo, of New York, right now is giving his own press conference. And what he says, an antibody test up there is proving that their numbers could be 10 times higher than what the official count is. At the same time, down the East Coast, the Georgia Governor says he’s going to lift the order in seven days, under pressure. So, are you going to bow to that same kind of pressure here and lift your order in seven days or are you going to use Georgia as a guinea pig?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (12:11)
Well, I don’t accept the premise of the question about the guinea pig and so forth. We’re planning to move forward in Louisiana, as we are able to… As we… If we meet the criteria, the threshold criteria, to move into phase one. Obviously, we would… I’m not making the announcement today because we’ve still got ways to go. But, the current order expires on April the 30th, it would be nice to go to phase one on May the 1st. We still are evaluating whether we will meet the criteria and exactly what that order is going to look like. Because as you know, what the federal government is issued is a series of guidelines as guidance. And so, we’re going to continue to move in that direction and we will know more soon. And it would be my expectation that at some point early next week, I’ll have to tell the people of Louisiana what to expect by the end of the week. And that’s when we’ll have that announcement to make. As I mentioned before, at the very least, our cases are flat and have been for a number of days.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (13:25)
Hospitalizations are down, and vent usage is down as well. And it appears that we’ve pretty much plateaued on the daily reports of deaths as well. Although, the deaths are obviously much higher than we would like them to be, and of course, you really don’t want anything over zero when it comes to deaths. But, we intend to move forward in a way that is smart, that protects public health, and does start to reengage our economy. And what I’ve said before, I think it bears repeating now, I want people to have their expectations in check. Because, phase one is a very gradual easing of the current restrictions. And it’s not as if we’re going to be opening… Just going back to where we were before this pandemic shrunk, that’s not the case. And so, we believe that when we meet the gating criteria, those threshold criteria, that we will be able to go to phase one accompanied by robust testing and contact tracing, as we need to. Yes, sir.
Speaker 5: (14:36)
As we’ve seen the numbers continue to get smaller and smaller, are you simply going by the criteria laid out in the guidance, as far as relaxing some of the orders? Or, are there other factors that you’re looking at?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (14:50)
Well, we’re applying our own independent thought. And we’re talking to folks here at the Department of Health, we’re talking to people who are in the business sector in Louisiana and others. And so, I don’t think what you’re going to see is an exact… Whenever we get to it, if it’s next week or if it’s two or three weeks from now, whenever it happens, you’re not going to see us execute a plan that is exactly the recommendations for phase one that came from The White House, but it’s going to be very close. And I [inaudible 00:15:21], I don’t want to stand here now and getting in front of where we really are. We’re still going through that analysis, we’re putting together the plan. And if we’re able to move forward next Friday, by early next week, you’re going to have me here at the podium explaining what we’re doing and what that’s going to look like. And it just wouldn’t be responsible for me to get ahead of that today. Yes, sir.
Speaker 6: (15:46)
Can you give an update on Louisiana’s effort to boost testing? You obviously said you wanted to be able to test around 200,000 people, ideally by May, maybe closer to 140,000. And also, the federal government is sort of indicated there, this can be a state responsibility. So, what are you doing as a state to boost testing?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (16:04)
Well, as a state, we are doing everything we can to make sure that we expand our capacity. And by the way, we’re trying to expand capacity in state for testing, so that… And we’ll continue to engage private labs like LabCorp and Quest, as we need to. But just to be more in control of the situation, we really want to rely primarily on in-state laboratories and creating a spoke and wheel model, where we’re going to have regions sending their tests to certain laboratories and to make sure that we are getting the tests done as quickly as possible, and the results are know so that it can inform our contact tracing. The most difficult part is not really the lab capacity, and this is true for just about every state. And I can’t speak for all of them, but I know that when I’m participating in the conference calls with The White House and conference calls with the National Governors Association, the problem isn’t lap capacity.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (17:11)
The challenges are, trying to source the swabs, the viral transport medium, the reagent necessary to collect that specimen, have it preserved properly so that you can get a reliable test result from it. And so, we’re really focused on those things right now, sourcing those items and starting to manufacture more of them here in Louisiana. And we’re going to have a much more detailed explanation from me, what that looks like. But I can tell you, we have, for example, some higher education 3D printers that are making the swabs that we need. Again, not in the number that we need them, but this was certainly helping. We’ve got viral transport medium being manufactured here in the state now, and so forth. And so, we are working very hard with…
Governor John Bel Edwards: (18:03)
… forth and so we are working very hard with FEMA because FEMA is the agency that we’ve been instructed by the federal government to work through to try to source more of these materials that will help us with testing. And we feel like we’re going to get to the level of testing that we need so our goal is to be able to do 200000 tests per month. The requirement is somewhere 140 to 150, but we would like to get over that, just to make sure that we have a clear picture of what’s going on in the state of Louisiana.
And how close are we to that 140 to 150 minimum?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (18:39)
Well, if you just look at… I think we’ve been in this fight for six weeks and I think we’ve done 142000. We just need a slight boost more than we’ve been able to do over six weeks and get it into a month and we’ve got more testing coming online every day. This is achievable, and this also is under the heading of trying to manage expectations.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (19:10)
There is a limit to how many phases of the reopening of our economy we can do if at some point the testing capacity stalls. But we feel very comfortable about phase one. That’s where we are right now and then every time that we try to meet the gating criteria to go to the next phase, whether it’s phase two, or phase three, then you don’t just have to meet those criteria, you also have to look at your ability at that point in time to do the testing in the contact tracing.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (19:40)
But we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We’re talking about phase one and we will be able to meet the criteria for that. Yes ma’am?
Governor, Senator McConnell has made some comments about not necessarily wanting to do much more at the federal level to provide assistance to states and perhaps allowing states instead to declare bankruptcy if they’re having problems with their budgets because of the virus. I guess what I’m wondering from you is are you interested in the ability of a state to declare bankruptcy? Would you like that authority or would you prefer additional money from the federal government? Have you gotten any guidance on the 1.8 billion that the state has already received?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (20:23)
I think you know the answer to that question before you asked it. Obviously, very disappointed in Senator McConnell. That is grossly irresponsible and the much better approach is the one taken by Senator Cassidy, our senator who working in a bipartisan fashion with Senator Menendez of New Jersey has introduced a bill in the senate that would actually appropriate about $500 billion, not all of which would go to states, but much of it would, with tremendous flexibilities so that states didn’t have to do things like declare bankruptcy and have massive layoffs and other things take place. That is obviously a much more responsible path forward.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (21:07)
And I’m hardened to say that publicly the President has agreed that in the next phase of Coronavirus relief coming out of Congress that states should be included and I’m hopeful that the Presidents view wins out and that Senator McConnell has a change of heart on this, because it would just be horrendous for states to have to declare bankruptcy, and by the way I’m not standing here saying that Louisiana would have to declare bankruptcy without any help, but to say that we would rather, or that he would rather see a state declare bankruptcy than receive help is grossly irresponsible.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (21:53)
Secondly, the guidance from the Treasury’s Office came today on the 1.8 billion which is the states share of the Cares Act and it’s for expenditures only, it cannot make up for lost revenue. But it does have significant flexibility on the expenditure front and that’s something that we were looking for. There’s still some questions and it is our intention to honor the spirit of it and what we’ve been asked to do by I think every single member of our congressional delegation, and that is find an allocation formula whereby 45 percent of the money will be allocated to local government, 55 percent will be retained by the state. That’s easier said than done, and when the money goes to the local government, they will be under the same obligations as we are to only spend the money on approved expenditures that have been incurred in relation to COVID-19 and not to make up for lost revenue.
Some states that have said that it’s so if the rules are not flexible enough and that they will end up having just to return the money because there’s not enough flexibility. Is that something you see for Louisiana?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (23:15)
We will do everything we can to bring that money to bear to address the problems related to COVID-19. I have had no conversation with Commissioner [Dardenne inaudible 00:23:27] about returning any part of that money and it could be… first of all it would be premature to say that because it remains possible that in subsequent acts of congress, they can retroactively increase the flexibility as it relates to the $1.8 billion. And I can tell you that continues to be a major focus of the National Governors Association.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (23:52)
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is the chair and every time we talk, which is at least once a week, we’re making the case to Congress, to the President, the Vice President about the need for more flexibility and so we will keep making that case. In the meantime, we’re going to take the guidance as it is and have the very best plan for the state of Louisiana. Yes sir?
Yesterday you encouraged the people of Louisiana to start wearing masks when they go out. We all in here are masking up like you asked yesterday. Also, yesterday it came out that Harris County, which is Houston is going to fine people for not wearing masks. You either get fined or you spend some time in jail. Your thoughts on that and with what seems to be so many more people out and about now in the last week, could we head in that direction or is it just too early to say because of how this is spreading?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (24:54)
I think you’re going to see some more on this next week as it relates to what happens after April the 30th. I will tell you, it is not my inclination at present to start arresting or fining individual members of the public for not wearing a mask, although I’m absolutely encouraging everyone to do that. Like I said yesterday, it’s like opening a door for somebody. It’s being polite. It’s being considerate because when you wear a mask, you’re protecting someone else and when they wear a mask, they’re protecting you and that’s what we should do.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (25:33)
But you are likely to see requirements that if you want to run a business and have folks come in from the public in order to purchase goods or services from you, then your workers ought to be in a mask. And so that is more likely to be in the order as a requirement than the public. But we need people to exercise common sense and to understand that we’re not asking people to wear N95 masks. We’re asking them to wear a suitable face covering. There are all sorts of ways to do these. You can do them at home, and we’re going to be providing a lot of information about this and we’re going to be distributing significant numbers of masks through [Parrish OEP 00:26:23] so to be available for distribution as well. But the masks are an essential component of making sure that we slow the spread and so we are going to be on the one hand in certain circumstances directing their usage, and the other it will be highly encouraging them. But I don’t see us getting to a point where we’re on the streets arresting people who don’t have a mask on.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (26:51)
And by the way, I think the way the people of the United States and Louisiana are seeing this whole issue around COVID-19, if you want to successfully reopen your business-
Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:03)
If you want to successfully reopen your business, you need to be protecting people from COVID-19, and they’re going to expect to see that the cashier is wearing a mask. If we get back to where you have dining on premises, that the waiters and the waitresses are wearing a mask. The people who are stocking shelves are wearing a mask, otherwise you’re going to run the risk that people are not going to come in your store. And so this is something that we think the business community is going to largely take care of on its own because they’re going to want people to be comfortable coming back in into their stores.
Speaker 8: (27:37)
Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:40)
Speaker 9: (27:42)
Governor, you said yesterday on the call with your economic task force or commission that you guys are going to be deviating from the White House plan in some respect, the White House guidance in some respects. Can you talk about why that is? We obviously have a higher death rate here, it may be riskier, and also what exactly you’re deviating from the guidance on.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (28:01)
Obviously there’ll be more information that on next week if we get to the point where we’re ready to go to phase one and I’m making that announcement, but we’ve already made announcements that are different from the White House. So the White House guidance really looked at taking non-emergency medical and surgical procedures and reopening those as part of phase one. Well, we issued the order already through LDH to do that. And one of the reasons we’re doing that is because we are less healthy than people elsewhere and we want them to be healthy. And so if you want people to be able to take themselves and make themselves healthier, they’ve got to be able to go to the doctor and get treatments for hypertension and for diabetes and other conditions. And so that’s really a big part of this. We also know that the longer people put off routine things, the more likely it is that an emergency develops relative to that health condition that they’re putting off treatment for.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (29:02)
So in consultation with hospitals and with various medical professionals across the spectrum, the LDH came to me and said, “Look, we think this makes sense and to go early.” So we did that. That deviates, as I mentioned, from those guidelines. And I think you’re going to see some other deviations because, quite frankly, there are some things that we’re just not comfortable with that they ought to be part of phase one that they would be much more in line with phase two, for example. So there’ll be more information on that on Monday. And if I try to get more specific than I just did, then I’m kind of getting ahead of where we are because we’re still going through this analysis there. There’s nothing easy about what we’re doing, it really hasn’t been done before.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (29:52)
We’re working in concert with our partners at the CDC and talking to healthcare professionals across the here in Louisiana. And look, we’re going to do everything we can to be smart about this, and to get it right. I’m pretty sure we’ll make a few mistakes, but because we’re going to be testing and monitoring, we’ll pick up on mistakes pretty quickly. And working with the business community and other stakeholders, we just believe that we’re going to be in pretty good position to move forward. And I will tell you that what we’re doing isn’t necessarily inconsistent with what the president put out because what he put out was that it was guidance. It was guidelines. And he was very clear about this. He wasn’t making decisions for governors. He said governors will be the ones who are in control of what they do and when they do it, here’s some guidelines as to what we would like you to consider.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (30:52)
I said the day they came out that they were very reasonable. There were very consistent with the discussions we had already been having here at [inaudible 00:31:02] and so I think they’re very helpful. And you’re going to see a whole lot more things that are in conformity with the guidelines than things that are not. So with that, I want to thank you all again for being here today and I want to encourage the people of Louisiana to be encouraged and to know that we are going to get through this, and we’re going to do so by being good neighbors to one another. It remains essential that we follow the stay at home order. It is in effect at least until April the 30th. I’m asking you to make sure you minimize any social contact. Stay home if you are sick, continue to wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (31:42)
Use hand sanitizer when you can’t control your cough. And when you do go out, keep your distance from, from other people at least six feet and wear your mask. Do all of these things that we’ve been talking about. Let’s continue to make sure that we’re heading in the right direction so that we can get to phase one and start gradually reopening our economy, getting people back to work and getting businesses back open. And I’d just encourage you to be focused on this and be determined. Let’s all do our part. There is a role for everyone to play and it is extremely important that everybody play that role. And that’s what I’m encouraging to do.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (32:23)
I want to thank all the people out there who have been doing so well. It is not lost on me. And every night when I say my prayers and I’m thanking God for our blessings, one of those is that we are not anywhere close to that trajectory we were on a month ago with case growth that was actually leading the world. We are in a much, much better place because of the people of Louisiana. And if we will just continue to behave in this fashion, it’s going to get better as we move forward and we will get through this in better shape than we otherwise will. And the most important thing is that we minimize the number of people who are dying. And if we minimize the spread of disease, we will minimize the deaths that we see. So thank all of you very much. I will see you tomorrow at two?
Speaker 10: (33:14)
Governor John Bel Edwards: (33:15)
2:30. I’ll see you at 2:30. Thank you very much.
Speaker 11: (33:44)
… Early conversation. Five minutes before I walked in, I was on with Commissioner Hicks trying to secure 40 to 50,000 cloth masks for inmates so they could be laundered. Our hospitals and longterm care, it is … We’re not in a position that we could just stop. Whether that’s isolation gowns, which are in a-