May 4, 2020
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards Briefing Transcript May 4
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards held a coronavirus press conference today, May 4. Edwards signed a stay-home order extension until May 15.
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John Bel Edwards: (00:00)
These Wednesdays and Fridays and Tuesday and Thursday will be exceptions. If we do them, we certainly make sure that you know as soon as possible, but we’ll plan to do these on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Obviously, the legislature’s back today and I know that they’re doing what they can to work safely to pass the bills that are essential to keeping our state operating and that is important. Obviously, that should be the focus right now on addition to anything that’s necessary to continue to respond to this public health emergency, the Coronavirus crisis. As I’ve mentioned to you before, we’ve always had critical infrastructure open and the legislature is certainly critical infrastructure, especially when you think that we have to have a budget in place by June the 30th in order to continue to operate on July the first, but just like it is for critical infrastructure out there, this is not time for business as usual obviously because there is a greatly enhanced public health risk to staff, to members of the public and to legislators as well. It’s just one of those things that the leaders will have to take into consideration as a balance all of the things that are going on.
John Bel Edwards: (01:23)
I have with me today, and he’ll speak in just a few minutes, State Fire Marshall, Butch Browning. He’s going to make some remarks concerning a new online resource for businesses and for churches. We want to make sure there’s as much clarity and transparency as possible going forward and about the process for safely resuming business and religious services as we do that over time in our phased approach. The new site will contain information, important information, to provide answers to many commonly asked questions and he’ll get to that in just a moment.
John Bel Edwards: (01:59)
Today’s numbers, we are reporting 333 new positive tests across the state of Louisiana. That brings us to a total just shy of 30,000 at 29,673. Also, sadly today we’re recording new deaths, 22 of them, for a total of 1,991. We have a slight decrease in the number of COVID positive patients who were hospitalized. That number is 1,502, but we have a slight increase to 220, the number who are actually on ventilators. Again, both of those differences are relatively slight.
John Bel Edwards: (02:44)
I can report that we have now completed more than 180,000 tests for COVID-19 in Louisiana. Overall, the numbers are encouraging. The last three days, the deaths have been the lowest in more than a month and it’s still a high number and we grieve every loss. In those three days combined, I think it’s 64 individuals have died, but if you go back to the daily reports, you get into March before you see a number that’s lower than what we’ve been reporting over the last three days.
John Bel Edwards: (03:21)
What that means is when you look at cases and hospitalizations and deaths, it means that the people of Louisiana are responding. They’re doing what we’re asking them to do in terms of abiding by the Stay-At-Home order, reducing contact with other individuals outside of the immediate household, wearing a mask when they’re out and about, and doing their social distancing and their hygiene, all of which are critically important if we’re going to minimize the spread and save lives. I do continue to be thankful to all of those people. Obviously, we can do better and there are certain individuals out there who could really do better, but overall the state is performing really well.
John Bel Edwards: (04:06)
We are number seven now in the nation in cases per capita. Just about three weeks ago, I think we were number two, which means we still have a lot of COVID-19 in our state for sure, but we are number seven. That beats being number two. As I mentioned to you before, we are going to weekly update the estimated number of individuals who’ve recovered. That update will come out on Mondays. Today’s estimate is that 20,316 individuals across Louisiana are presumed to have recovered from COVID-19, so that means that there’s still over 9,000, about 9,300 or so, people with a positive case who we don’t deem yet to have recovered. That’s a lot of COVID-19 because the last time I was at this podium talking about it, there was one.
John Bel Edwards: (05:11)
There’s over 9,000 today and that doesn’t account for any of the individuals who have not yet been tested. Many of them were asymptomatic or very moderately symptomatic, don’t know that they have it, but it is contagious. It is for that reason, that especially as we move forward and we start to relax our restrictions, engage more of our economy, get more businesses open, and more employees back to work, more individuals into these places of business and worship and so forth, the contact tracing is going to be really, really important. Of course, that’s informed by the testing strategy.
John Bel Edwards: (05:54)
What we’re going to plan to do is at our Friday briefing this week, we will do a deep dive into testing and contact tracing so that you all will have an opportunity to ask questions about our plan going forward. I will tell you that over the last 24 hours, we received our first allocation of swabs, which as we ramp up to 200,000 tests per month, which is 4.3% of our state’s population and we’re going to start that in the month of May, the swabs will be resourced and the vast majority of our vile transport medium will be resourced as well by the federal government. Those shipments have started coming in, which is very helpful.
John Bel Edwards: (06:36)
We will be responsible for about 25% of the vile transport medium that we need and we’re working with local entities to engage in the production of that. Also, the reagent will be sourced through the IRR, which is kind of transparent to or for you all that really make that much difference. We’re requesting it through FEMA and it should come to the state of Louisiana and the numbers that we need, as I mentioned, to get to 200,000 tests per month in the month of May.
John Bel Edwards: (07:08)
Today, we remain under the Stay-At-Home order and I want to ask people to continue to abide by that so that we can keep our case trajectory, our hospitalizations, our deaths, obviously headed in the right direction along with our social distancing, our hygiene, and wearing the mask in public. It’s incredibly important that you do that, that way we can make progress towards reopening just as soon as possible. I will tell you that the more and better we follow all the guidelines that are out there, I think the sooner we’re going to get the economy re-engaged to a degree that we all want to see it.
John Bel Edwards: (07:50)
Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo and I know that there are a lot of restaurants and a lot of patrons looking forward to that and that’s a good thing. I do want to encourage everyone, however, to remain vigilant. Restaurants will be open with outdoor seating only. Many of you had an opportunity to experience that this week, I’m sorry, this past weekend. The reports that I got was that many restaurants across the state of Louisiana took advantage of the opportunity that they had to reopen in his fashion and did so in a way that was safe for their patrons.
John Bel Edwards: (08:27)
Obviously, there’ll be sitting outdoors. There won’t be any waitstaff waiting on the tables and anyone working for these restaurants that is coming into close proximity to the individuals interacting with the public will be required to wear a mask. We do encourage everyone to wear a mask and then only go out with members of your immediate household.
John Bel Edwards: (08:51)
Butch Browning and I want to be very clear about everything that I just mentioned and about the Stay- At-Home order being in effect and that these rules, allowing the restaurants to open outdoors need to be followed in order to ensure the safety of everyone involved. We do want to thank all of the restaurant owners who worked so hard over this past weekend to make sure that they were able to offer this to their customers and did so in a safe way.
John Bel Edwards: (09:28)
I know that many businesses have been eager to know what their requirements will be going forward. Today, we have that answer for you with a new web based program called Open Safely. This is what the Fire Marshall will be speaking about shortly, but it will allow businesses to get the exact social distancing and sanitation guidelines that they need for each phase of our reopening, and they will get that information before we get to that phase so that they can do what is necessary to prepare. Butch will be coming up in just a minute to take some questions about that. I did have an opportunity today along with all the nation’s governors to participate in a video telephone conference with the Vice President and the White House Coronavirus task force. I think just about all 50 governors were on the line. He again singled out Louisiana and asked me to convey to all of the local leaders around the state of Louisiana, the team at the state level, and then to the individuals just how appreciative he and the President are about the way we have worked so hard to flatten the curve and the progress that has been made over the last several weeks.
John Bel Edwards: (10:44)
I’ll get to my public questions in just a moment, but we’re now into the month of May. We’re less than a month from hurricane season, so we do want to and this is national hurricane preparedness week, so we want people to be prepared for a hurricane. Typically, they don’t come in large number and heavy strength until the August, September timeframe as we all know, but hurricane season starts in June and it can happen anytime after that. Our state is not postured as it normally is because of the Coronavirus public health emergency. We do need everybody to be paying attention to this. We need people to go to getagameplan.org, getagameplan.org for preparedness information for you and your family and your business.
John Bel Edwards: (11:34)
Download the Get A Game Plan app. You can put it on your phone in order to receive updated shelter and evacuation route information should local officials call for hurricane related action.
John Bel Edwards: (11:50)
Okay. I want to get to some questions now. Cheryl from Slidell says, “When will the Louisiana workforce start processing the 13 unemployment benefit extensions?”.
John Bel Edwards: (12:02)
So the Louisiana Workforce Commission is programming its work to begin paying these 13 weeks of unemployment benefit extension by the end of this week. These are federal dollars that were passed by Congress, this the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance and allows those who’ve exhausted benefits under regular unemployment compensation, which is capped at 26 weeks in Louisiana, to receive 13 weeks of additional benefits of $600 in addition to regular unemployment insurance, which the Louisiana max, as you all know by now, it’s $247.
John Bel Edwards: (12:42)
The computer program and testing required to distribute these funds has been extensive and it’s been very challenging but we expect that we’ll be able to start issuing these payments by the end of the week. Louisiana’s payment average right now is 87%. that exceeds the vast majority of states, so Louisiana Workforce Commission has certainly had their work cut out for them. They have been responding in good fashion and making considerable progress each week.
John Bel Edwards: (13:19)
Let’s see. Devante out of Monroe. He’s got a question about renters and what can they do if they can’t not pay rent but they’ve been laid off from their jobs.
John Bel Edwards: (13:33)
Well, obviously if you can’t make rent payments because of the COVID-19 outbreak, we encourage you to contact your landlord or property management company just as soon as possible. As soon as you realize that you may not be able to pay all or any portion of your rent as it becomes do. Rent relief can come in several forms depending on your circumstances and on your landlord. Whatever terms you can negotiate, make sure you put those in writing. Eviction courts were suspended in Louisiana until at least may the 15th of 2020. Your landlord has to get a court order to evict you and so forth and so that won’t happen so long as these courts are closed.
John Bel Edwards: (14:18)
Federal law prevents evictions and charging of late fees until after July 25th of 2020 for certain rentals covered by the CARES Act. Obviously the rent obligation continues and for those individuals out there who can make their payments, they should continue to make their payments.
John Bel Edwards: (14:37)
So at this time I’m going to ask a Butch Browning to come up. He’s got some prepared remarks about this online program that I just mentioned to you. I would ask that if you’ve got questions about that program that you ask him those questions while he’s still up here. Once he leaves, then have Doctor Alex Billioux here with me to answer any questions that you might have about this public health emergency. Thank you.
Butch Browning: (15:04)
Thank you governor. The state Fire Marshal’s Office as you know is a very proud partner and promoter of business here in Louisiana and has coming into the phase one, the governor has tasked us with bringing about information on how businesses would be able to open safely. He mentioned open safely. You can go to opensafely.la.gov. That’s opensafely.la.gov and businesses can register, a very similar process to the Fire Marshall’s Information Management System. It’s a spin off of that but a lot easier and a lot more friendly to get you open real quickly.
Butch Browning: (15:41)
So in the Open Safely Program, it’s a collaboration with the Louisiana Department of Health’s criteria of mitigation as well as the fire code issues and capacity issues that are necessitated for a business to properly open.
Butch Browning: (15:55)
Today the program will be active to the citizens of Louisiana. Businesses will be able to register their property to be notified when certain phases are open and immediately when they register, receive the guidance they need to get their business in commerce.
Butch Browning: (16:11)
In addition to that, consumers and customers will be able to file a complaint if they in fact go to businesses and feel like that the mitigation standards and the fire code standards are not being followed. Business owners will simply register by providing an email, an email that will be confirmed real quickly and allow them to go on and answer about seven quick questions.
Butch Browning: (16:35)
Upon completing that question, they’ll receive an email back providing them the information from the Louisiana Department of Health as well as the Fire Marshal’s Office and an acknowledgement poster that they could hang in their business. The beauty of this program is it’s online. It’s a living document. The businesses never have to go back to the portal. As conditions change, as phases turn on, as new rules or maybe strengthened or weakened, they’ll automatically receive notification and I think that’s a very important piece to this.
Butch Browning: (17:05)
What it does is it promotes self enforcement. It promotes compliance and that’s exactly how we’re viewing this. Now the governor mentioned this weekend, the restaurants and the places of worship, it took advantage of the outdoor facilities. It was really a very positive thing. The Fire Marshal’s Office received very few complaints, most of which were unfounded, so we believe that we’re on the right track with building that type of partnership. As I spoke, they’ll get the latest information as to what is expected of them and what might be expected in the future. Now one piece to this is there a compliance checks that will be performed by the Louisiana Department of Health sanitarians as well as state Fire Marshal Deputies. Understand these compliance checks do not prevent you from opening. Once the governor gives the order that your business has this listed and that particular phase can open, you can open with the rules that we provided. When the compliance checks occur down the road or are based on complaint or based on priority for that manner, when a compliance check is done, that business owner will receive an email with the results of that compliance check. So a very transparent situation.
Butch Browning: (18:13)
Once the visits are complete and the businesses need more information, they can go to our website, Lasfm.org, the contact page and receive further guidance.
Butch Browning: (18:26)
Again, as I said, customers have a role too. On opensafely.la.gov, any customer, any patron, any individual can go and file a complaint on a specific situation that they think needs to be looking into and either a sanitarian from LDH or a Fire Marshal Deputy will respond to that complaint.
Butch Browning: (18:45)
We’ve created a how to video on how to show people to comply both on the business side and on the consumer side but I think it’s back to the simple message as the governor stated. We want to get the information out well in front of businesses being allowed to open so there’s no misunderstanding. There’s time to prepare. There’s time to retool whatever processes in that building needed to be retooled and of course the education of employees.
Butch Browning: (19:11)
So, I’ll answer any questions that you might have based on this.
You have a count of how many businesses are currently violating the stay at home order you mentioned that your offices investigated?
Butch Browning: (19:25)
So the complaints we had over the weekend were all restaurants. No places of worship and upon going out there, they were actually in compliance, so we don’t have a record of any restaurants that are violating.
Butch Browning: (19:37)
Speaker 2: (19:43)
There are many restaurants that don’t have a patio, they’re essentially making a patio. Does the website address that?
Butch Browning: (19:45)
Currently the memo that the governor approved on, I think Tuesday of last week, allowed the construction of outdoor facilities in conjunction with the permitted existing restaurant and many of them have taken advantage of that. The same rules apply whether it’s an existing patio, whether they create this patio environment through barriers, through open tents or maybe through umbrella. We’ve seen some umbrella tables too as well.
speaker 5: (20:11)
Obviously the guidance for a restaurant is going to be different than the guidance for a barbershop. How detailed is the guidance based on the type of service that is provided and are we talking about hundreds of different sets of guidelines or 10 or 15 broad ones? Can you kind of shed some light on that?
Butch Browning: (20:28)
That’s a great question. So first off, there’s a common theme in both the life safety and egress environment as well as the mitigation that LDH is providing to eliminate the spread, the protective measures, the sanitizing. So there’s a common theme, but to your point, there’s specific guidance to just about every type of occupancy.
Butch Browning: (20:48)
Obviously a restaurant environment has a different risk than a business that might be a jewelry store or as opposed to some type of environment, like you mentioned the hair salons. So they are specific and that’s the beauty. When they register and as they registered today, they’ll receive the specific guidance as it is today and it’s subject to change because new information comes about on a regular basis. I mean, I got to say in the Fire Marshall’s Office there was no textbook for us to pull off the shelf. We just use our knowledge and number one, being business friendly, being stewards of economic development, but being protectors of safety and in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health, I think we have a model that a lot of other states are going to look at as a way to do it. But it is specific and it is, it’s very flexible. We can update it has conditions change as the governor makes new directives, as we learn new things, whether they be adverse or good things.
speaker 5: (21:45)
How long have you been working on this?
Butch Browning: (21:46)
So we started working on the program a little over a week ago. It’s a spinoff of our existing IMS system, so the platform was there. It was just customizing it to this new threat.
Does this follow all the phases of the White House [inaudible 00:22:03] or are those specific state created phases?
Butch Browning: (22:07)
I think as a governor stated, if I state it correctly, it does follow the spirit of the phases of the White House and Phase One would be the next phase and it is built based on that. I can’t speak where it’s exact, but it’s pretty close.
John Bel Edwards: (22:30)
Thank you and Melinda, just getting back to your question a little bit. So our phased approach going forward looks very much like the guidelines that came out of the White House that the president issued a couple of weeks ago. There’ll be some exceptions, for example, non emergency medical and surgical procedures resumed a week ago, but they’re not envisioned in the president’s plan until Phase One but that was something we thought was a particular need here in Louisiana for a number of reasons that we’ve gotten into in the past. But for the most part, what we do going forward is going to resemble very, very closely what the president laid out in his phased approach to reopening.
John Bel Edwards: (23:15)
So with that we’ll take some questions. Yes ma’am.
Speaker 3: (23:23)
Do you have any interest or plans in mandating that all nursing homes to test their residents and that all inmates get tested. A lot of states have started announcing-
John Bel Edwards: (23:31)
Yes, some states have and that was part of our conversation this morning with the White House and I know that, I can’t remember now which governor it was who briefed and the short answer is yes and we’re already doing that in certain nursing homes. It takes some period of time to get that done across the state but as we move forward with greater emphasis on testing, and as we increase our test capacity, one of the things that Doctor Birx is…
John Bel Edwards: (24:03)
… constantly talking to governors and other folks about is the need to do sentinel surveillance testing to include those asymptomatic individuals in congregant settings like nursing homes, long-term care facilities, prisons and jails and those sorts of things. And so that is part of our approach. We will be getting into more in the testing on Friday but Dr. B, why don’t you to come up and give a little better explanation?
Dr. B: (24:33)
Yeah, and if there is a timeline for when these are going to be required and all that.
Dr. B: (24:38)
Yeah, so as the Governor noted, some facilities have already begun doing comprehensive testing for their congregate settings. A lot of it depends on the layout of the buildings and if risk assessment of individuals living in individual rooms versus where we see more people having to live in the same room. And so our teams throughout the nine regions across the state have been working with nursing homes as well as long-term care facilities and even local prisons and jails to talk about how do we get that testing pushed out.
Dr. B: (25:12)
Now that we have a significant increase coming in swab availability, and we’ve talked about previously how those specimen collection kits are a major rate limiting factor or have traditionally been a major rate limiting factor for our ability to get testing into these settings, we’re hopeful that that allows to do the comprehensive testing, and so the need for comprehensive testing is coming at right about the same time that we also now clearly have evidence of significant spread through asymptomatic transmission in those settings.
Dr. B: (25:40)
The guidance should be coming out relatively shortly, and in the meantime, the team under the Governor’s direction, and the Secretary’s direction, and the Department of Health, has been developing a strike team support for nursing homes throughout the state to come in where they don’t already have the ability to do that kind of comprehensive testing, and partner with them to do that in their facilities, starting first with facilities that have maybe the most clear need for a variety of different factors, and then hopefully moving to where we can do that for the entire state.
Dr. B: (26:09)
So is it going to be a mandate that all nursing homes do it, and will any nursing homes be required to do it if they don’t have assistance from the state with testing materials?
Dr. B: (26:20)
So right now, what I can say is the department is developing guidelines, which obviously nursing homes usually abide by. The specific question about mandate would go to health standards, which I don’t know if they’re contemplating that. I will say that as we’ve been reaching out to nursing homes and offering comprehensive testing or encouraging that, we haven’t had people saying, “No, we don’t want to do that.” So our hope is that similar to the way we’ve been managing most of this, as we offer that support, as we offer the ability to do specimen collection, again testing results in state labs for quick turnaround, that we’ll see uptake without having to have that kind of regulatory approach.
Speaker 5: (27:03)
You don’t have a date by which you’re aiming to have every nursing home resident in Louisiana tested?
Dr. B: (27:08)
Not as of yet.
Speaker 6: (27:14)
On the topic of nursing homes, the CMS issued guidance on instructing nursing homes that publicly state whether or not they’re having an outbreak, and the White House, they said they’re finalizing regulations for a public tracing database listing of this week. Does the department have any intention of [inaudible 00:27:30] facilities that are dealing with COVID-19 cases?
Dr. B: (27:34)
The federal guidance is that CMS is mandating for the facilities that they work with or regulate that they report to the CDC directly. That’s not a reporting mechanism that comes directly through the department, and so currently we’re still working with the nursing homes to try to get rapid reports of new cases, new deaths as quickly as possible. We are also looking at how our policies and guidelines will be updated as we move closer to contact tracing and comprehensive testing that we’re talking about mid-month. And so at that point, certainly we’ll look at the policies and guidelines.
Speaker 7: (28:17)
But on the testing, and I don’t know which one of you this should be four, are you all going to be also doing the testing of all the inmates in prisons as well? I mean, you were speaking specifically about nursing homes, but I’m also wondering about inmates in close proximity and state facilities.
Dr. B: (28:33)
So similarly, we’ve been working with the Department of Corrections on measures like that. We’ve helped them with comprehensive testing in certain facilities. Again, we’d like to be able to expand that to the entire population. The timeline under which we’re able to do that is somewhat dependent on all of these different populations that we want to expand testing to and the ability to consistently get those testing kits into the state. And frankly, we’re also in the meantime, not just trying to rely on the federal supply of testing kits, we’re also looking at other opportunities for more saliva based testing that would again expand our ability to do even more testing in the state.
Dr. B: (29:10)
There’s not a question that there’s a benefit to testing comprehensively in congregate settings. There is an open question of how frequently you need to go back and test people who have tested negative.
Dr. B: (29:21)
And so when you think about just the number of people, first of all, we’d hope that most people are negative, but the need to retest, it’s really not just a simple math equation of saying there’s 31,000 inmates in the state, so we can just put that in at the end of the allotment. Whoever’s negative, we need to go back and retest as frequently as maybe twice a week. And so as we’re looking at how we prioritize those populations and rollout, our goal is to get the comprehensive testing. The timeline or which under which we’re able to achieve that is still under review.
Speaker 8: (29:49)
When you test a facility, are you testing both the staff and the patients or the inmates depending on what facility we’re talking about?
Dr. B: (29:57)
Yeah. Most often we’re offering testing to both individuals, certainly symptomatic, and at times, we’re not currently forcing staff to be tested. What we’ve seen is that where we do do that testing, there’s interest in uptake amongst the rest of staff when we come back to do more testing as well.
Speaker 8: (30:17)
So whenever you get to the point where you say, yes, we tested statewide in nursing homes, or yes, we’ve tested statewide in prison settings, jails, are you talking about testing statewide staff and patients/inmates or just [crosstalk 00:30:31] and patients?
Dr. B: (30:30)
Yeah, but I think your question brings up a really good point, which is you can’t just go through and say we’re going to test either of those populations once and be done. So what I just mentioned about needing to go back and retest negative individuals, even if we had a setting, a nursing home setting or an incarcerated population, where multiple times we see that there’s no change in the number of cases, we don’t see any new cases develop, there’s still people who work in those facilities who are coming in and out, the staff. And that is a moving target, right? That’s not something that you can sort of, again, just do one and done.
Dr. B: (31:05)
So I think that’s the caveat that I would give to that question, we want to offer testing, certainly to anybody who’s symptomatic, we want to offer testing in these congregate settings comprehensively. That is a never ending mission because people will continue to be in their communities. We’ll continue to have to marry that with contact tracing so that as individuals, whether in their facility or when they’re in their community, are identified to be positive or have viral shedding, that we’re moving them out of contact with other individuals. But there’s not really, until we get to the point where we have COVID really under control, and a vaccine, there’s not really an end to that need to continue to retest, and so that puts this sort of what’s the deadline for reaching everybody kind of more in context as well.
John Bel Edwards: (31:51)
Thank you. Yes, sir.
Speaker 9: (31:56)
Governor, your tone seems to have shifted a little bit in the past week. Even though we’ve extended the state home order, you’ve obviously let businesses, restaurants have outdoor dining, and you’ve told businesses to read the order and see if they can be open, encourage them to be open. I guess, are you worried that that’s going to prevent us from meeting the threshold need to make it to May 15th?
John Bel Edwards: (32:16)
No, because businesses will open in the fashion that we’ve authorized and conduct themselves accordingly, and if individuals will abide by the mitigation measures that we have in place, whether it’s mask usage, going out as infrequently as possible, maintain your social distancing and the hygiene, then everything that we’ve authorized is safe. Otherwise we wouldn’t have done it. And so I feel like we’re in a pretty good place right now relative to where we’ve been, and certainly it appears that we’re moving in the right direction. I will always caution you all though, that if you just look at the numbers at the state level, a lot of times you may miss what is happening in a particular parish, or city, or in a particular region of the state. But if you just look at the numbers, it appears that we’re moving in a pretty good direction.
John Bel Edwards: (33:18)
This morning I was briefed that we had three regions in the state out of nine that had slight upticks in hospitalizations. Now those numbers weren’t large enough to cause an awful lot of concern, but if it becomes a trend then it does cause a concern. But what we’ve authorized is safe and so the people will do what we’ve asked them to do, then we don’t have any reason to believe that we’re going to lose control of our case count, and that we’ll get off of the currently more favorable trajectory that we’re on.
Speaker 10: (33:52)
One more follow up, if we see again on May 15th that statewide the numbers appear pretty well and maybe in New Orleans they appear to look really good, but some areas aren’t ready yet, will you reconsider… You’ve rejected the phased or the regional approach, will you reconsider that and maybe open up by parish [crosstalk 00:34:12]?
John Bel Edwards: (34:12)
Well, we’ll certainly look at it, and one of the reasons that we may have more flexibility into mid-May that we didn’t have before is the testing that we have. So on Friday, we’re going to get deeper into this, but you know that we have a testing plan that we have fully coordinated with the federal government, and they have committed to resourcing the vast majority of our test collection kit needs to get us to 200,000 tests per month. That’s 4.3% of our population. That’s actually more than twice the level that the federal government set as a minimum standard. So as you get that testing capacity online, then you have the ability to do some things that you weren’t able to do before that. And so we will take a look at the various regions and the state as a whole in light of the fact that we have the enhanced testing capacity that we hope to have by then.
John Bel Edwards: (35:07)
We don’t have it yet, but as I mentioned, the first allocation did come in in conjunction with the contact ratio that we’re going to be able to do, because what we know is the ability to test and to contact trace is what allows you to keep a lid on cases.
John Bel Edwards: (35:27)
One of the reasons why I did not consider a regional or parish by parish approach, whenever that was, last Monday, was because we don’t have that testing capacity in the state. So we weren’t going to be able to monitor as closely what was going on, and because we didn’t have the testing capacity for current hotspots that we wanted, we certainly didn’t want to run the risk of creating new hotspots. But we’re going to be taking a look at all of that and make the very best decision that we can going forward consistent with the-
John Bel Edwards: (36:03)
… White House guidelines, which by the way have been vetted by CDC. And every time we have a question, we make sure that we’re getting with CDC to better understand what it is that they’re asking us to do. You had a question a while ago, I think.
Speaker 11: (36:19)
Yes. Governor, I was out at multiple locations this weekend reporting, and a majority of people are not wearing masks. Does that concern you?
John Bel Edwards: (36:28)
Yeah. It does. Obviously, we didn’t mandate it in the order, but it is a CDC recommendation. It is a Louisiana Department of Health recommendation, and it is essential if we’re going to keep the numbers down as low as possible. And it is being a good neighbor. It’s just having I think due respect and concern for others. So, again, I encourage people to wear that mask while in public, and I’ll remind you if you’re running a business, then your employees and yourself, if you’re engaged in assisting a customer, you’ve got to have that mask on. But I do encourage people to do it, and look, I think you have to go no further than what I believe the vice president put out yesterday about mask usage, and he compared going to the Mayo Clinic without one and then going to… I think it was a vent manufacturer in Indiana with one. And he was talking about the importance of wearing a mask.
John Bel Edwards: (37:32)
And when you think about things, when you think about how many people have died here in Louisiana and around the country, and how many more are expected to die, depending on what the cost growth looks like, it is a very minor inconvenience. I mean, you all are sitting here right now with a mask on, and I know you’d rather not have one on, but it’s a minor inconvenience in light of what we’re up against.
John Bel Edwards: (37:55)
On the phone call this morning with the other governors, the nine other states that are already starting the reopening, none of them met the White House criteria. Did that subject happen to come up today? And whether it did or not, why are you holding Louisiana to the same criteria to open up, and are you confident that in the next 11 days we’re going to see a 14 straight day cases decreasing across every region?
John Bel Edwards: (38:22)
Well, we don’t have cases decreasing all four regions today. I mean, all nine regions today, so I don’t want to hazard a guess. It’s obviously my hope that that’s what we see. Look, I don’t second guess what other governors do. They have their own considerations for whatever reason. I will tell you that here in Louisiana, to the extent that we can, we’re going to abide by the guidelines, because we think that they make sense. Now, having said that, there are some things that we’ve already deviated from, so we’ve opened up our non-emergency medical and surgical procedures earlier than other states, and I’ve told you why. Because in Louisiana, we’re less healthy than other states, and we want people to be as healthy as they can be if they contract this virus, so we’ve got to get them reengaged with their physicians, and there’s some procedures out there that need to be done.
John Bel Edwards: (39:20)
And even though that was not contemplated in the president’s guidance until phase one, the White House has supported my decision on that. In fact, the vice president mentioned that to the country today, that we had moved ahead on that particular decision, and he asked others to consider whether they can and should do the same thing. So, we’re going to take the phased approach, and we think it makes a lot of sense. I would remind you we didn’t, at the outset, close a lot of things in Louisiana that were closed elsewhere. And so, I haven’t done an exhaustive state-by-state analysis, but somebody could certainly do that. But as I read where many states are coming back online and they’re opening up construction. Well, we never closed construction. They’re opening up manufacturing. We never closed manufacturing.
John Bel Edwards: (40:16)
Every single time CISA, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, has revised its guidelines to include more as critical infrastructure, we have embraced that completely. So, we’re on a third set of critical infrastructure now. And yet, we’ve been able to reduce our case growth and our numbers in a way that is quite frankly, or as impressive as anybody in the country. And the vice president said that today, as well, because their eyes were closely on Orleans and Jefferson Parish a few weeks ago. Quite frankly, unsure whether it was going to turn around to the degree that it has, and they’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the work that’s been done, which is why every time I talk to the vice president, he asks me to relay to the folks of Louisiana how much he and the president appreciate the work that has been done here.
John Bel Edwards: (41:15)
Speaker 12: (41:20)
As far that allocation of swabs you mentioned earlier today, numbers wise, what’s that look like? And where do you think that’s going to go first [inaudible 00:41:24]? Most important spots to send these additional-
John Bel Edwards: (41:28)
Well, and we’re going to get much more detail into our testing plan on Friday, but I want to put this in perspective. So, the swabs that we got today, that’s not what, obviously, everything that we expect to get this week, much less this month, but it is a very good sum. We were told that in the first week of May, we would start receiving the allocations necessary to allow us to do the 200,000 tests per month. So, these swabs that came in, it’s a really good indicator. It’s an affirmation that the system is working, at least now, as it relates to swabs. And so, it was 13,000 swabs as I recall, and obviously we’re trying to get to 200,000 tests per month. So, we should be getting several more allocations of that amount.
John Bel Edwards: (42:19)
In addition to that, you have to have the viral transport medium. You got to have the reagent. The reagent will be sourced separately, but through FEMA, and the IR says that they’re going to be able to meet our needs on the reagents. So, we feel pretty good about where our testing program is. And we’re working really, really hard to make sure that we implement it faithfully, with fidelity to our plan.
John Bel Edwards: (42:43)
Speaker 13: (42:44)
Speaker 14: (42:44)
Governor, we’ve received $1.8 billion in federal aid. It sort of seems unclear where that money is going to be spent, given most of our needs are picked up by the FEMA 75-25% match, so I’m wondering if you can’t use that for lost revenue, do you have any ideas of where we might spend that money? Any loan programs for businesses, or something else?
John Bel Edwards: (43:05)
Well, it’s a really great question. We know as of right now we cannot use it for lost revenue, whether it’s state or local. And we intend to allow 45% of that $1.8 billion to go to local governments across the state of Louisiana. That wasn’t something that was required in the act, but it was something that was communicated to me by I think every single member of our congressional delegation. I think it was without exception. We’re going to honor that.
John Bel Edwards: (43:40)
One of the reasons your question is so good is it was either last night or this morning, I think the secretary of the treasury put out more guidance on the CARES Act and how it can be used, and increased some flexibility. And just before we walked in here, because this was put out by the Secretary of Treasury Mnuchun during that video telephone conference today, I was able to get with Commissioner Dardenne and ask him to go take a look at it, because that might change the way that we plan to allocate and distribute the funding to local governments, and the way that we might want to make use of it ourselves.
John Bel Edwards: (44:20)
I anticipate at the end of the day we’re going to be able to find good and constructive uses for all of that funding. I would remind you that we’re going to have a match, right now, of 25% on all of the FEMA-approved expenditures. That is going to be considerable, and so we do believe we have the flexibility, because normally, you wouldn’t be able to use federal dollars to satisfy non-federal match requirement. But the flexibility was written into this that we can, and so that’s one way that we’re going to use that funding. And then we’re going to be having conversations with all of the various stakeholders at local government and across the state, trying to figure out what is the best use. And in the mean time, it’s our hope that Congress will take up the Cassidy-Menendez bill in the Senate, and allow for additional dollars to the states that can be used to make up for lost revenue. And so, that’s another thing that I directed the vice president’s attention to today, was that particular bill, and asked him to take a look at it with an eye towards supporting that bill.
John Bel Edwards: (45:34)
Look, thank you all for coming out today. Again, we’ll plan to do this on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, here in the press room at the capital. If we need to get together at any other time, on other days, we’ll certainly let you know. I apologize, we did not have the monitor up here for you. We’re going to get that for the next briefing, so that you can see the charts that we typically show you all. So, thank you very much and I’ll talk to you later.