Sep 10, 2020
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript September 10
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards held a press conference on September 10. He announced that Louisiana will move into Phase 3 of reopening. Read the full transcript here.
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Governor John Bel Edwards: (00:19)
Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you. Rather, good morning. Thank you all for being here today. I’m joined by several members of the team, including Secretary Marketa Walters of DCFS. We’ve got General Waddell of the National Guard. And also we have Dr. Alex Billioux, the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Public Health. And we also have Dr. Kanner with us today.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (00:47)
It’s a little earlier than we normally give the daily numbers, but we do have them. So I want to start there today. Today we’re reporting 499 cases of COVID on 10,557 tests. We are also reporting 21 deaths today. It’s been six months since the first case and today we went over 155,000 cases which is, as you all know the most in the country per capita. We are almost at 5,000 deaths, I think today we’re at 4,991 inclusive of the 21 that I just told you about.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (01:32)
Today I think we also went over 2 million tests since the beginning of this pandemic. And I think we’re slightly over 136,000 tests in the month of September, which I will tell you through 10 days is a really good number because of everything that we’ve been dealing with, with Hurricane Laura and the response and recovery and having people scattered about and all the National Guardsmen who’ve been doing other missions, but we did resume our community and surge testing. So I do want to thank everybody for their hard work in that regard.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (02:15)
With respect to hospitals, we’re reporting 762 COVID patients in hospitals across the state of Louisiana. That’s down 20 since yesterday. We’re plus two on mechanical ventilators. We’re up to 125 today. Now I suspect all of you are aware that our Phase Two proclamation expires tomorrow. It has to be replaced by a new proclamation, and we’re employing the exact same gating criteria that we’ve done up to now to determine the next steps.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (02:54)
And as you will recall, those are COVID like illnesses being reported to emergency departments. It’s testing and cases, I should say, based on both the raw number of cases, and also test positivity, the number of positive tests that are yielded by the tests administered. And then we look at hospitalizations to make sure that we’re nowhere near crisis care and have adequate capacity and those sorts of things. You also have to look at your ability to test, to make sure that you know exactly what’s going on. Well, as best you can with a public health emergency. We’ve looked at that for two weeks, the last 14 days worth of data that you have. What I’m prepared to say today is that data is positive enough that we will be going into Phase Three tomorrow and we will get deep into the weeds with you all about Phase Three, the gating criteria, what the data looks like, also what Phase Three will look like, but we’re going to do that tomorrow.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (04:09)
And then I will be traveling later today to go to Vernon, Allen, and Cameron parishes. And then we’ll come back and we’ll work into the night preparing the new proclamation. But I did want to share that with you all right now. I will tell you for reasons that I’ll get more into tomorrow, this was probably the hardest decision that I’ve made thus far, not based on the data itself, but based on all of the activities that had been going on in the state of Louisiana recently that could influence where we are two or three weeks from now that isn’t reflected in the data upon which I made my decision, but I thought it was best to use the same gating criteria in order to have consistency and transparency about what we’re doing.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (04:58)
But I am mindful, and everybody else should be too that we had, I think, 17 more school districts come online this week. We’ve had Hurricane Laura, which has taken thousands of people from Southwest Louisiana and send them across the state to be sheltered. And I’m mindful that that area had the highest percent positivity in the state at the time Laura hit. But we’ve also had, in addition to K through 12 schools, our higher education campuses come online. And then we most recently had Labor Day. And so we are going to be somewhat anxious over the next couple of three weeks to get that data in and see what it does. What we do know is that if we want to be successful and not have to move back, because I will say what I’ve said from the very beginning, we are not going to take a chance and not have the capacity in our hospitals to render lifesaving care.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (06:01)
And so if we don’t want to go backwards, we do need everybody to understand Phase Three is not a lifting of all restrictions. It’s not some announcement that COVID is no longer in Louisiana. It is. Every CDC guideline remains in place. All the mitigation measures remain incredibly important and we need people to do their part. And that’s how we can be successful in trying to strike the right balance between public health on the one hand and having our economy open on the other and more normalcy and so forth. But we do need people to do their part. And it’s the same things we’ve been talking about for a long time. Wearing the mask and/or face covering, make sure that you’re six feet apart from people not in your immediate household, make sure that you’re washing your hands, that you stay home when you’re sick, that you reduce your activities.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (07:04)
The safest place is always going to be home and that is absolutely the case for the most vulnerable among us. Those people who are 65 and older, those people were those co-morbid health conditions that predispose them to a poor outcome should they contract the disease. So whether it’s obesity or heart disease or kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, all of the same things that we’ve been talking about all along, none of that goes away, all of that remains in place. And so we really want to make sure that we’re messaging that because my concern is that when you say you’re going to the next phase of reopening people assume, well, that means everything is okay. Well, it’s not okay. We’re still number one in the country in cases per capita, but we have done better of late. That’s what the data represents and so that’s why we’re making the decision that we’ve made.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (08:05)
Again, I will have more specifics for you tomorrow about what will be in the proclamation as it relates to Phase Three. And we will be more specific with you tomorrow about the criteria that we use.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (08:24)
Let me see where we’re at. I got ahead of my talking points but I think I delivered all of them as it relates to that. So before I close my discussion on COVID, I think you all have heard that Dr. Billioux will be leaving the state of Louisiana. And I wanted to personally and publicly thank him for his tremendous work here over the two years, but principally over the last six months. And I think if you asked him, he would probably tell you that the six months feels like six years, because it’s just been nonstop. It has been absolutely nonstop and these are very, very difficult emergencies to manage. Especially when you have something called the novel coronavirus. Novel means it’s new. It means you don’t know that much about it, and you learn, and you do everything that you can to keep the public safe from a threat that you can’t see.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (09:30)
You can’t feel it, but it is very, very real. And I will tell you his counsel to me, his advice to me has just been so valuable. And I will say right now, I wish he were not leaving because he’s been just a tremendous asset to the State of Louisiana and to the Department of Health and to me personally, but I certainly wish you well. He will be here until the end of the month. And we’re in great hands in the Department of Health, being led by Dr. Courtney Phillips, and we have other wonderful people who were there including Dr. Gidry and Dr. Fratz, Dr. Kanner, who’s with us today. All the regional medical directors are tremendous. Dr. Theresa Sokol and her team of epidemiologists. So we’re in good hands and we’ll be making an announcement later this month I suspect as to who’s going to replace Dr. Billioux.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (10:35)
So I know that’s a lot of information today, but there are a few important Hurricane Laura updates I want to go through as well. The first of which is the heat is still a major factor for people who are working to clean up their businesses or their homes to make repairs, to try to make their homes livable and so forth. In the Southwest of Louisiana today, for example, where most of this is happening, the heat index is going to be well over a hundred degrees. And so we’re encouraging everybody to pace themselves, make sure that they take frequent breaks, drink plenty of water, because quite frankly, they’re not going to have a lot of air conditioning that they can get into because while the situation has improved with respect to power outages, I think we’re down to about 120,000 statewide, they are concentrated in that area and so you’re not going to have a lot of air conditioning.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (11:35)
So we’re encouraging people to be cautious. We are now up to 28 confirmed deaths related to Hurricane Laura. A number of these are because of heat related causes. So we do encourage everyone to be extremely careful, stay hydrated, take frequent breaks. We have some good news with respect to two additional parishes being added for individual assistance by FEMA. Those parishes are Union and Morehouse. So that brings the total number of parishes where residents are eligible for individual assistance to 18. We do want to make sure that people are paying attention to the Blue Roof Program, because there is a limited time for people to apply for that program, which is incredibly important. The US Army Corps of Engineers is running this program. They’ve been tasked by FEMA to do it. We have 6,000 homeowners who’ve registered that we believe are eligible for this assistance, but the deadline to apply, to sign up for this program is September the 21st.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (12:50)
So this provides homeowners with the free contractor installed fiber reinforced sheeting to cover damage roofs until permanent repairs can be made. So we encourage homeowners who need to, to sign up. You do that by calling (888) 766-3258, or you can visit. And by the way, that’s 888-ROOFBLU, or you can visit their website usace.army.mil/blueroof.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (13:33)
We also have some updates today with respect to the SNAP Program. DCFS, working under Marketa Walters will be able to provide benefit replacements automatically to SNAP recipients in 26 parishes with widespread power outages. So that’s automatic. Those beneficiaries don’t need to do anything. But read recipients from other parishes, if you’re on SNAP and you lost power for at least 24 consecutive hours, you can complete a form to request a benefit replacement. And you do that by going to the DCFS website, dcfs.la.gov. You have until October the 8th in order to sign up for that. All SNAP recipients will receive a three month extension on their certification deadlines beginning this month. And these waivers come in addition to the hot foods waiver that we talked about with you all last week. SNAP recipients who are not already receiving the maximum allotment for their household size will also receive a COVID related emergency supplement to bring them up to the maximum.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (14:48)
Those are scheduled to be available on September the 18th. Today is also the first day of applications for DSNAP. We had told you for some time now that we were targeting September the 10th to start, well we are starting today. We did receive federal approval earlier this week to operate DSNAP for residents impacted by Laura in 16 individual assistance parishes. And we’re putting in a request to add the two new parishes today that we announced. And this is the groundbreaking DSNAP for us in that it’s going to be done virtually. We are not going to have many, if at all, individuals who are coming to physically be present at a site manned by DCFS workers in order to apply for DSNAP. And as I mentioned, it does begin today and it starts with nine parishes in the first phase and those parishes or Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, Rapides, Vermillion, and Vernon.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (16:05)
So we want applicants to call a call center and that’s 1-888-LAHELPU. And that’s the letter U. So that’s 1-888-LAHELPU. And they will call on their designated days according to the alphabet system between the hours of 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Today’s is A through C. So those individuals who want to call in, if their last name starts with the letters, A, B, or C today’s your day. Anyone who misses their designated day can apply during the last two days of each phase, open to anyone from the designated parishes, regardless of their last name. Applicants will be told on the phone immediately after completing their application whether they have been approved to receive DSNAP, and if so, the amount of benefits that they will receive. If approved for DSNAP benefits, the card will be mailed or sent by FedEx to you. So for more information, text LADSNAP to 898211.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (17:22)
Staying with DCFS for just a moment. As of 6:00 AM today, there were 12,886 people being sheltered in the state of Louisiana at 42 hotels, 36 of which are in New Orleans. The others are in Baton Rouge and Shreveport. And so each of the last several days, the number of folks that were sheltering on a nightly basis is growing slightly, not in the tremendous numbers that we were seeing right after the hurricane. Texas officials continue to shelter about 4,800 Louisianans in the state of Texas. All these shelters that we’re talking about are non-congregant hotels, obviously important because of COVID. And the Red Cross is working both in Texas and in Louisiana. So we want to thank Texas. We want to thank the Red Cross for all the assistance that’s being provided.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (18:22)
Those individuals in Texas, they can call 888-991-5229 for more information. We remain very grateful and thankful to Governor Abbott and all the people of Texas for their generosity. For up to date sheltering information, you can text LA Shelter to 898211. Shortly, I’ll be traveling to three parishes, I think I may have mentioned this earlier today, but they’ll be Vernon, Allen and Cameron, in that order. And then returning at some point late this evening to continue to work on the proclamation. So at this time, I’m going to take questions and you’re welcome to ask all you want about Phase Three and the gating criteria and what Phase Three will look like. Understand, you’re not going to get much of an answer today.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (19:20)
Greg, go ahead.
[inaudible 00:19:25] Included in some form for Stage Three?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (19:27)
Yeah. We’ll make the announcement tomorrow.
Speaker 4: (19:32)
Governor, you said this is the toughest decision you’ve made, I think since you’ve been Governor [inaudible 00:19:40]
Governor John Bel Edwards: (19:40)
The toughest decision I’ve made with respect to the COVID-19 phasing. Look, there’s lots and lots of tough decisions as governor, but as it relates to the phases that we’re in and the reopening plan, this particular decision cycle was very difficult.
Speaker 4: (19:59)
And can you tell me why that is? [inaudible 00:20:02] Hurricane impact on one hand, and you’ve got [inaudible 00:20:04] numbers on the other hand.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (20:07)
Well, right. So the fear, that’s exactly what it is. If we hadn’t just started K through 12 schools, opened our higher ed campuses, had Labor Day, and a hurricane, it would have been the easiest decision probably. But having the recent experience of Memorial day, even though we did our very best to try to communicate with people about what happened after Memorial Day and why, and how it was really young people who were contracting the virus at a really elevated rates. And then at some point they obviously started spreading it beyond their age group. And that didn’t just happen in Louisiana, it happened all through the Sunbelt, from Arizona to Florida. And knowing that there’s a potential for that to happen after Labor Day, which is why we worked so hard to try to communicate, educate people.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (21:06)
We had Dr. Birx who was very generous with her time last Friday. I think she did three interviews with news stations in Louisiana trying to basically do the same thing. And so you’ve got the data that, I think, in a relatively straightforward fashion supports the decision to go to Phase Three, but then you have the unknown and the unknown happening precisely at a time when your testing was more diminished than you wanted it to be because of the hurricane. I want to be consistent. I want to be transparent. And so we’re going to apply the same criteria we have in the past. And the caveat that I will share with you today is that we hope, we pray that we don’t see things go backwards, but if we do, we will act pretty quickly because we cannot, as we enter flu season, take a chance that we are going to have cases, hospitalizations, increase rapidly, and we’ve already seen two surges. So this was a difficult one. And I just wanted to share that with you all.
Speaker 4: (22:24)
Governor John Bel Edwards: (22:29)
I did not say. Yes, sir.
Speaker 5: (22:40)
[inaudible 00:22:40] The mask mandate will remain in place [inaudible 00:22:43].
Governor John Bel Edwards: (22:49)
You want me to give you something today? The mask mandate’s going to stay in place. And by the way, that’s important for everybody to understand. If we want to be successful in increasing occupancy levels at businesses and at churches and those sorts of things, we can do that safely, but you still have to wear mask. And for God’s sake, you can’t wait until you feel ill to start wearing a mask because we’ve had a prevalence study that said 60% of the people in Baton Rouge area were asymptomatic. Yet they had COVID and they were contagious. And so wearing the mask is incredibly important, but so is distancing. So is washing your hands. So is staying home if you’re sick. Reducing your activity and protecting those who are vulnerable and having those who are vulnerable protect themselves by understanding, and really this is true for everybody, home is the absolute safest place to be.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (23:52)
So the fear that I have is that anytime you signal that things have improved, and you’re going to go to the next phase, that rather than communicating all of those things that I just talked about that remain critically important and no less important than they were yesterday or last week or last month or three months ago, incredibly important, that people will hear what they want to hear as opposed to what they’re being told. And we have to be extremely careful with this.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (24:24)
Any other questions? Yes, sir.
Speaker 6: (24:25)
The White House Coronavirus Task Force say to you earlier this week when you met with those officials about moving into Phase Three and what kind of advice did they give you?
Governor John Bel Edwards: (24:34)
Yeah. Well, first of all, I haven’t met with the White House this week. I was on a call yesterday and there was some conversation by Dr. Birx principally that was directed to States, but yesterday the vast majority of time was actually spent on Operation Warpspeed. That’s what we call it, the vaccine development and giving updates on where that is with I think, six different vaccine efforts that are ongoing simultaneously and so forth. But we did get state specific recommendations that continue to talk about in Louisiana, having a real need to focus on people aged 21 to 24. And it’s not just in Louisiana, because this is what Dr Birx is talking about across the country. But we are starting to see here and elsewhere around the country, the first signs since our improvement, that that group is contracting the virus at an elevated rate. Where they’re really starting, and you’re going to see this tomorrow, but they’re starting to separate from others.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (25:43)
So she talked about that and the need to make sure that we’re doing things in a very smart way, with the mitigation measures and restrictions, to try to make sure that we don’t have a repeat of the post-Memorial Day surge. And you will see those things in the plan that we talk about tomorrow for Phase Three. Yes, sir.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (26:17)
Well, it doesn’t, it doesn’t say go to Phase Three, don’t go to Phase Three, but we received the recommendations yesterday. I think we received them yesterday just before that call and Dr. Birx told us that the next set of recommendations, which will come out, they typically come out on Sunday and I guess it was the holiday weekend that caused them to come late this time, they’re going to adopt a little different format. So I’m not sure exactly what they’re going to look like next week, but I don’t know that the recommendations have ever come in and said yes or no with respect to go into a different phase.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:00)
And in fact, they never retracted the guidelines that they issued back in April for the gating criteria. So, those gating criteria, as far as the White House is concerned, is what they have put out to inform the decision making with respect to whether or not to go to the next phase. But they do talk more specifically about different specific venues and that sort of stuff. You’re doing a good job fishing, but I’m going to really reserve till tomorrow when we talk about these things in detail. Yes ma’am?
Speaker 8: (27:46)
Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:46)
You got to say that again. I can’t hear it.
Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:54)
There’s a recall petition circulating? Yeah. There are a lot of things that keep me up at night, that’s not one of them. But thank you all very much. We will be back with you, I think, same time tomorrow? I’m sorry, two o’clock tomorrow right here. And thank you all very much for continuing to cover this and I look forward to seeing you-