Sep 8, 2020
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards Briefing Transcript September 8: Hurricane Laura & COVID-19 Response Update
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards held a press conference on September 8 to provide updates on the state’s response for Hurricane Laura and COVID-19. Read the transcript of the briefing with all of the updates for Louisiana here.
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Governor John Bel Edwards: (00:00)
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Governor John Bel Edwards: (00:13)
Why, thank you. Good to be back.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (00:21)
Good afternoon and thank you all for being here. I hope everyone had a good relaxing and very safe Labor Day weekend. I know it’s been a while since we had a press availability. So, this is going to contain more information than normal. I do want to start off with a little good news. FEMA has approved our request for additional parishes to qualify for critical needs assistance. They are Grant, [Natchitoches 00:00:54], Rapides, Sabine and Winn. So, that brings us to a total of 11 parishes that are qualified for critical needs assistance. And remember, this is that up to $500 or just $500 that they will get out pretty quickly upon registering with FEMA, if you qualify based on the answers you give to the questions. So, as always, we continue to encourage people to go to disasterassistance.gov and apply for FEMA assistance.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (01:28)
Additionally, this is related to the CARES Act now, Louisiana received $14.8 million in assistance through the CARES Act for saltwater fisheries that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The application period begins on September the 14th and will remain open until October the 26th. To apply for the program and to get information about the guidelines, visit the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website at wlfdotlouisiana.gov and click on the CARES act assistance box. Obviously, this is a big help to our fishing community. We appreciate the federal assistance and we know it’s not going to cover all of the losses that our seafood community has endured. And we’re going to continue to work with our federal partners to try to get more funding, to help that community, which has suffered greatly from a number of different things over the last couple of years.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (02:37)
Unfortunately, and this is back to the storm. We’re at 26 storm related deaths now in Louisiana. Seven of these deaths have been related to storm cleanup, including people falling from roofs or being hit by the limbs or debris. So, please be very careful when you’re working on your house or property. Take every precaution necessary to ensure that you’re safe. Stay hydrated and take frequent breaks. And it looks now like we’re not going to quite get the full benefit of the cold front that was supposed to push all the way down into the impacted area. That likely won’t happen. There will be some additional rain over the next few days, but we won’t be getting those low temperatures.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (03:23)
Nine of the deaths are attributable to misuse of portable generators. So, if you’re using a generator, please make sure that you’re positioning it at least 20 feet away from your house in a well-ventilated area. And that it’s not near open doors, windows, vents. Don’t put it in your garage or your basement or anything like that. An update on the National Guard, they have just over 5,600 guardsmen activated presently in support of hurricane Laura, and they have distributed five and a half million liters of water, 4.1 million MREs, 672,000 bags of ice and 161,000 tarps. Today, the National Guard is supporting 28 points of distribution and three hubs. So, that’s a total of 31 sites across eight parishes. We have some good news on the power outage. You will remember at the peak; it was 615,000 accounts or customers without power. Those outages have largely been located.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (04:31)
I’m sorry, we’re down to 137,921 as of noon today. And those outages are largely located in the southwest region of the state. Unfortunately, progress will be slower going forward than it has been up to now in reducing those numbers, just because of the sheer devastation to the infrastructure in southwest Louisiana. So, as a result, please be aware of boil water advisories and other public health alerts that we’ll be sending out through local radio and TV broadcast. If you have questions about the safety of your water, contact your water system. If you don’t have that information, you can always call 211. It is important to be extra careful when preparing your food. If you have trouble accessing water or clean water. LDH updates its list of water system outages and boil water advisories on its website at ldh.la.gov/safedrinkingwater.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (05:40)
At present, there were 48 storm related water outages affecting the population of more than 15,000 people. And that’s five fewer outages just since yesterday. There are 93 boil advisories out there for water systems, and the situation is currently improving. I’m sorry, there are 108 public water systems that have been cleared from their boil advisories. So, we are making good progress there. The CPRA has been working to facilitate additional drainage of flood boarders in Cameron parish. They’ve completed their emergency operation to cut a levy along the lower Mermentau river. They did that yesterday and water is now flowing out into the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, pumping operations continue in the Creole and Cameron areas of Cameron parish and observations from gauges are indicating falling water levels in that region.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (06:44)
As of today, there are 12,730 people being sheltered in the state of Louisiana. The vast majority of these 12,607 were in non-congregant shelters, principally 42 hotels. And those hotels are in the New Orleans Baton Rouge and Shreveport areas with the vast majority being in New Orleans. If you need shelter, please text LA shelter to 898-211 that’s LA shelter to 898-211 for information about where to go. We received word today that DCFS has federal approval to provide disaster SNAP benefits. And this is a nutrition benefit, SNAP, for those who are not on SNAP currently. And this will take place in the 16 parishes that have been approved for individual assistance. In light of COVID, this will be a different SNAP process. D-SNAP is going to be virtual and individuals will not have to apply in person. There will be more information forthcoming very soon. So, please stay tuned. And we are tracking turning that on, on September the 10th.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (08:09)
In the meantime, if you’re not currently receiving SNAP benefits and you’ve been impacted by Laura, we do encourage you to go ahead and preregister for D-SNAP now. You can text LA D-SNAP to 898-211 for information on how to register. LA D-SNAP to 898-211 for information on how to register. This will speed your application. And please remember if you’re already on SNAP, you do not have to apply. For those 4,500 or so Louisianans who continue to shelter in Texas, the Texas officials and the American Red Cross will continue to reserve hotel rooms for you and your families and provide other needed assistance. Call (888) 991-5229 to confirm your parish and to register for accommodation.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (09:03)
… To confirm your parish and to register for accommodations. We’re very grateful to Governor Abbott and the people of Texas. And it’s very important that Louisiana’s evacuees in Texas continue to accept those offers for rooms because we’re just about at capacity with the rooms that we have under contract at hotels here in Louisiana. And so they have the space in Texas. So we’re encouraging you to stay there. If you come to Louisiana, at least for some period of time, you’re likely to be in a congregate shelter, which we really don’t want you to be. And that would be at the Alexandria Mega Shelter until we could locate you a hotel room. And again, those are in short supply now so we’re asking you to stay where you are. For up to date sheltering information, remember it’s LASHELTER to 898211.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (09:59)
Getting back to the COVID situation, there are some parents who missed their chance to apply for pandemic EBT. And this is back in the May or June time period. There’s another period of time in which they can apply for those benefits. The Department of Education and the Department of Children and Family Services are reopening the P-EBT application portal for three weeks. And that starts today. And this is for families of children who receive free and reduced meals at school, but they didn’t apply for P-EBT during the initial offering. They now have until September the 29th to apply. This includes those who attend a community eligibility provision school where all children receive free and reduced price meals regardless of income. Families who received P-EBT during the May, June application period are not eligible. This is not a new benefit. This is the same benefit, but it’s being opened up again for those people who did not take advantage of it previously.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (11:02)
You apply on the Department of Education website at louisianabelieves.org. And again, you have until September the 29th. We estimate that there were 264,000 or so students who did not apply the first time when that window opened in the spring. More than 470,000 did receive benefits. I would like to make sure that people understand that P-EBT is not SNAP. It doesn’t affect SNAP benefits. It’s not related to loss from Hurricane Laura. Its eligibility is based solely on the student’s participation in the free and reduced price meal program. And these are one time benefits of $285 per child. And what that is is $5.70 per day per child for 50 days of schools that were missed and those meals were not provided. It’s a program authorized by Congress as part of the Families First coronavirus response, the CARES Act of 2020.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (12:08)
With respect to COVID, today’s numbers, we are reporting 250 new cases on 4,125 tests. Now, you know that’s a low number of tests and that’s a low number of cases as well. That’s about a quarter of the tests that we would normally report. We think that that’s probably related to two things. One, it was a holiday weekend. And so the reporting may not be complete. But secondly, because it was a holiday weekend and because we continue to recover from Hurricane Laura, it’s likely that our testing was not as robust as we want it to be either. This is something we’ve been talking about for awhile now, and we really need to get individuals back into our community and surge testing sites. They are open around the state today. They’ll be opening more and more sites over the coming days as well. Unfortunately, we’re also reporting 13 new deaths for a total of 4,955. There are 799 inpatients. These are individuals in hospitals across the state of Louisiana with COVID-19. That’s an increase of 12 from the day before. And we have seven more people on ventilators than before, with 131 total. I am aware that the phase two executive order expires Friday. We will have a decision for you perhaps as early as tomorrow. I will have my gating criteria meeting later this afternoon. And we also have a White House coronavirus taskforce call tomorrow. And we are waiting for their weekly update on state specific data and recommendations. So obviously we’ll have a decision for you before Friday. And we’re not going to rush that decision and I’m not going to get into that today.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (14:05)
As I close, we’ve declared September the ninth as Louisiana Census Day, where we’re going to make a robust push to get people to complete their census forms. It really is critical that everyone participates. It just takes a few minutes to fill out a form. It will impact our state for the next 10 years in areas of education, healthcare, transportation infrastructure, congressional representation, and so much more. And it’s important that everyone is counted. Our self-response rate is far too low right now at 58.6%. The total response is just over 80%. It’s one of the lowest percentages anywhere in the country. And so we are asking people to take a few minutes, complete their census form. You can go to my2020census.gov. That’s my2020census.gov. Or you can call (844)-330-2020 to find out more information and fill out your form. So with that, I will take some questions. Yes, sir.
Speaker 2: (15:19)
Hey Governor, you know this is the first time you’ve reported what you were doing with phasing on Tuesday. Why do you need more time this week?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (15:31)
Well, yesterday was Labor Day. And while we had a UCG meeting, we did scale it back. We also don’t have the state specific data recommendations that come weekly from the White House coronavirus taskforce. That typically comes on a Sunday. Today is Tuesday. We don’t yet have it. And I haven’t yet had my gating criteria meeting where we look at the criteria that’s called for under the reopening guidelines. But the order expires Friday. There’ll be a decision well in advance of Friday. And it’ll be based on the data and on the recommendations that we have from the White House as to how we proceed. Yes, sir.
Speaker 3: (16:22)
A football question. There’s been speculation that there’s been no announcement on the capacity of Tiger Stadium because you and LSU officials haven’t [inaudible 00:07:24]. Can you share any thoughts? It’s a couple weeks away before the season starts. Your thoughts on that subject? I mean, obviously most SEC schools are talking about 20,000, 25,000, or there about. Can you share your thoughts on that?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (16:36)
Yeah. Yeah. Well, first of all, my thoughts are in line with the other schools. I don’t know that there’s a difference of opinion between myself and LSU on the percentage of capacity that will be allowed. And that’s the way I’ve seen it expressed, not so much in terms of a number of people who will be allowed in the stadiums around the SEC, but as a percentage of the capacity. And so, I’m looking at 25%. But understanding that whatever decision we make today or whatever announcement we make today, it’s always going to be subject as to what’s going on with respect to COVID between now and then as to whether it remains that. And certainly we want to be able to make an announcement that will hold true for I think it’s September 26th, right? The Mississippi State game. Yeah. And so, but we’re working through that and there’s some time to get that exactly right. But I don’t know that there’s a difference of opinion. I just think there hasn’t been an announcement yet. And I suspect one’s coming out pretty quickly.
Speaker 3: (17:46)
For somebody that says that that would be a low percentage, [inaudible 00:17:59].
Governor John Bel Edwards: (18:06)
Well, it’s 25%, but 25% of 90 something thousand’s a lot of people. And so, that’s the concern and I think it’s a percentage that is consistent with the vast majority of other SEC announcements. And I will point out that our state has had more cases per capita than any of the others, that we’ve already ridden the crust of two surges. I’m not anxious to do it a third time.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (18:33)
And so, we’re going to make prudent decisions based on where we are as a state. And I think it’s always useful to look at what other states are doing, but it’s not necessarily something that we feel bound to follow in terms of what they’re doing.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (18:52)
Speaker 3: (18:52)
Of course, we all know the schools have started and that’s kind of revived the question of students and faculty [inaudible 00:18:52] masks. [inaudible 00:19:02], because [inaudible 00:18:55] the city and [inaudible 00:19:19].
Speaker 3: (19:14)
But considering you have a low percentage of kids getting the disease, [inaudible 00:01: 22]. How do you personally feel? [inaudible 00:19:26]. What’s your personal opinion about kids wearing masks [inaudible 00:19:36]?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (19:36)
I do. I think it’s important to be as safe as we can possibly be and that includes at school where you have plenty of faculty and staff, not just kids. And I haven’t seen studies that say that kids don’t get the disease. They typically have not quite as bad an experience with it, obviously. And quite often they will remain asymptomatic. But in order to have our schools be as safe as possible for everyone, including the students, the staff, the faculty, I think it’s important that we embrace the CDC guidelines which includes those around mask usage. And I know that that’s something that the BESE board included in the guidelines that they put forward, relative to some legislation that was passed. I think it was Buddy Mincey’s bill, Representative Buddy Mincey’s bill, to prescribe some guidelines for our schools and to try to get them to do things that were consistent with those best practices to minimize the transmission of the disease, and so forth, and make that school environment as safe as it can be in exchange for with the schools also get some liability protections as well.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (20:55)
Speaker 4: (20:56)
Governor, I think you’re well aware that the [inaudible 00:21:00] is [inaudible 00:21:02].
Governor John Bel Edwards: (20:57)
Speaker 4: (21:05)
We have [inaudible 00:21:05] election on November 3rd. Do you think that it’s second [inaudible 00:21:11] the hurricane [inaudible 00:21:15] impacted Lake Charles, and basically repopulating [inaudible 00:21:16].
Governor John Bel Edwards: (21:19)
Yeah. The elections obviously is going to be challenging. We’ve got the COVID situation. We’ve got the hurricane. The court hearing over the election deals with the emergency plan related to COVID, obviously I thought for the reasons I stated, that the Secretary of State’s proposed plan just contravened to many CDC guidelines relative to protecting people, and it would cause them to have to make a very hard decision. Are they going to unnecessarily expose themselves or others to the virus in contravention to those guidelines? Or are they going to forfeit on their right to vote? And there’s no reason to do that, especially since all we have to do is go forward with the plan that we implemented in both July and in August, where they have increased opportunities to ask for a mail ballot because they’re symptomatic, because they’re under quarantine, because they are more vulnerable to disease by virtue of one of those comorbid health conditions that we’ve been talking about so long.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (22:31)
That was obviously a plan that was submitted by the Secretary of State that I just couldn’t support, and so, the federal court will decide that. At the same time, we are working with the Secretary of State to create a task force, to make decisions and to make available voting precincts in the area that has been most heavily effected. It isn’t just a function of restoring power. It’s making sure that you have enough places that are actually suitable to serve as voting precincts. And the first meeting of that task force will be this week, and so, these are two separate issues.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (23:14)
Those individuals who might still be, and we don’t know what the case is going to be as we get closer to the election, but those individuals who might still be in the shelter and not home, they have the traditional absentee ballot means to get their ballot. They can just check the box saying they’re not going to be in the parish on Election Day. And we’re going to try to make sure that anyone who was in the shelter as we approach Election Day, they have an opportunity to request the absentee ballot.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (23:40)
But when you get down into places like Cameron, and Calcasieu, and Vernon, Beauregard, and so forth, regular polling locations may have been damaged to the point where they just can’t serve that function. And so, we’ve got to figure out where we can actually have these voting precincts in enough time to get the information to voters, so they know where to go in order to vote. And that’s not necessarily limited to Election Day, that could potentially be for early voting as well.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (24:10)
And so, we’ve got a task force that’s going to be meeting this week to try to work through all of that. And I will tell you, we have multiple state agencies who are going to be participating in the task force, and we’re going to work that issue hard with the Secretary of State so we can hopefully get all of that ironed out.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (24:29)
Speaker 5: (24:30)
Governor, obviously a lot of folks are anxious to move ahead with reopening and some are [inaudible 00:24:36] you’d rather them follow the rules. I guess, what kind of response to that decision? But also [inaudible 00:06:42]?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (24:46)
It’s troubling to see that people are doing what we know to be unsafe. In fact, the very activities that caused the second surge really, you can go back to Memorial Day and see where those activities really fueled that second surge. Especially when it started with much higher case rates and people 18 to 29, and then, it got exported beyond those two other citizens, including older citizens, and those who were vulnerable.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (25:19)
Look, I understand that that people don’t like the protocols, the mitigation measures, the restrictions that are in place because of COVID, but they’re there for a reason. We are following the recommendations that we get from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. We’re looking at the data and everything that we have in place is consistent with that.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (25:42)
And what I know is the degree to which we’re going to be successful in opening up more and more of our economy, our churches, and schools, and universities, and being able to leave them open without undue interruption is going to be determined by the degree to which people wear masks, and socially distance, and wash their hands, and stay home when they’re sick, and reduce their activity. There’s nothing that’s magical about that. There’s nothing that’s hard to understand. We’ve been talking about this for a very, very long time.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (26:15)
And so, it’s my hope that that more and more Louisianans will comply with this, and that’s really sort of the new normal until such time as there is a vaccine that is mass produced and administered in enough people so that we can get back fully to normal. And I continue to urge people to do what’s required, and by the way, we can add something to the list now as we’re getting into flu season. It’s really important that people get the flu shot because people with the flu tax, the same portion of our healthcare delivery system as people with COVID. It’s a respiratory based element. And so, we really need people to get their flu shots, so we have as few flu cases as…
Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:03)
… people to get their flu shot, so we have as few flu cases as possible this year. That will help us to be able to make sure that we can have the hospital capacity to meet the needs of everyone, not just those with flu and COVID. But an ICU bed is an ICU bed, and if it’s filled with someone with flu or with COVID, then it’s not available for somebody who has a stroke or gets in an accident, or something like that.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:26)
So all of this is really, really important, and we continue to stress it. We’re not the only ones. Everything that I just told you is fully consistent with what’s coming out of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and Dr. Birx, and so forth. So we’re asking the people of Louisiana to take this very seriously. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 6: (27:47)
Can you talk about what you have seen in Southwest Louisiana. How tough has the hurricane recovery been on families that have young children?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:56)
Yeah. Well, the question is how tough has the hurricane been on families with young children. Extremely tough. Look, it’s a challenge under these environments with education regardless; because even when school districts are open, many of them are not open full-time for in-person instruction. So at least some of that’s going to be virtual. For some school districts, it’s all virtual, at least in certain grades. That was always going to be challenging.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (28:24)
But now, you have people with children who are home needing to resume their education, but you also have all the nutrition needs that you have to satisfy, all while you, hopefully, you’re trying to repair your home. It’s just extremely tough.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (28:42)
I will tell you, when we were in New Orleans the other day meeting with the people who’ve been sheltering there, I was able to talk with a number of young children and their parents. I was very appreciative of the efforts that the city of New Orleans and all of those volunteers and those agencies are making to make that experience as good as it can possibly be for those individuals. Some tremendous work’s going on. But at the same time, it is a very, very challenging process for all of those folks. The sooner we can get power restored, get people back into their homes, get life more back to normal, the better off all of those individuals are going to be. It’s just a real challenge.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (29:35)
I appreciate the questions that you’ve asked about this. Obviously, we want to lift these people up. We want to continue to encourage the nonprofit sector, the private sector, the faith community to step up because they’re doing just tremendous work as well.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (29:53)
Then much of what we’ve been talking about today with the Pandemic EBT, the P-EBT Program, and the D-SNAP, those programs are also designed to help take care of some of those needs, but there’s nothing that beats a return to normalcy as much as you can have. Again, we’re not going to be fully back to normal because of COVID-19, but these young people certainly didn’t need Hurricane Laura compounding their problems.
Speaker 7: (30:25)
Governor John Bel Edwards: (30:25)
Speaker 3: (30:27)
Considering phase 3, [inaudible 00:30:30] there’s been some of these studies that compare the actual effect of the lockdowns we have had. For instance, [inaudible 00:30:40] recently, [inaudible 00:30:41] more than 34%. Suicide attempts [inaudible 00:30:44] 41% [inaudible 00:30:51] Now you’re talking about flu, and some people are suggesting we need to wear masks through the flu season now, we have to reduce any risk that is inherent in life. Do you still believe it’s the price that we can pay [inaudible 00:31:06]. Do you think you handled it as well as you should have? Do you ever have second thoughts about [inaudible 00:31:11]?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (31:13)
I don’t have any second thoughts about the way we’ve handled it because we’ve handled it in accordance with the science, the recommendations that we’ve been getting from healthcare professionals, epidemiologists, and others. Every decision that we’ve made has been consistent with the White House Coronavirus Task Force and their recommendations and guidelines.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (31:33)
One of the good news pieces about the flu is that the mitigation measures that we have in place for COVID-19 also work with respect to the flu. So social distancing is a way to prevent the flu from spreading as much as it would otherwise. The masks, the washing of hands. That’s not just theory because when we had the original surge in Louisiana and elsewhere back in March, we were still in flu season. We saw when we put the mitigation measures in place, overnight, the cases of the flu dropped considerably, which was very, very helpful because the cases of COVID surged, as we all know.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (32:19)
That is some good news actually, is that the mitigation measures that we have in place for COVID actually work very well to reduce the spread of the flu. Something as simple as just not shaking hands greatly reduces the transmission rate of the flu.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (32:37)
Look, I want to thank all of you for continuing to cover this. Christina, what time are we going to have a press-
[inaudible 00:32:45] probably around 11:30 tomorrow.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (32:45)
Probably at 11:30 tomorrow; and that’s because in the afternoon, I do have the White House Coronavirus Task Force call. We’ll try to do this UCG in the morning early enough to get out and do a press conference with you all at 11:30. If that changes, we will certainly let you know, and thank you all very much.