Mar 18, 2020

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards Coronavirus Briefing March 18

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards Coronavirus Briefing
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsLouisiana Governor John Bel Edwards Coronavirus Briefing March 18

Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana held a news briefing today on March 18, 2020 updating the people of Louisiana on coronavirus, or COVID-19 efforts in his state. Read the full transcript here.

John Bel Edwards: (00:01)
In our citizenry, I should say, to violate those measures that are in place specifically to protect them. So we’re only going to succeed if we work together. There are still limitations on our access to testing and testing materials. We’ve been transparent about that but we are ramping up as quickly as we possibly can. I want everyone who’s at risk of COVID-19 to get tested, and to stress, I’m talking about those who are symptomatic. Testing when you’re not symptomatic can cause a false sense of security because it might say that you are negative when in fact you are positive, and we don’t want to use up scarce resource like our test kit capacity and the time and effort of our healthcare workers to actually administer the test, and then for the lab folks to run that test. If you have any questions about whether you can and should be tested, please call 2-1-1 if you don’t have a primary care physician to call.

John Bel Edwards: (01:04)
And I do want to take a moment and thank everybody who’s working so hard right now all across the state, particularly in the New Orleans and Jefferson area, but really all across the state, and the lab workers who are working so hard on behalf of all the people of Louisiana. I am proud and grateful of their tremendous work and dedication, and we’re going to certainly be thanking them for a very long time. The best thing that our people can do for healthcare workers is to comply with the measures that we put in place to flatten the curve, because that reduces their workload and reduces the chance that they’re going to interact with someone who is going to be positive. So obviously the fewer people who get sick, the better for our healthcare workers and for our state as a whole.

John Bel Edwards: (01:47)
I do know that this is a difficult time for businesses, their employees, the general public. I understand that. That’s why we’re taking a number of measures to support businesses to make all resources available to those who may have been laid off as well. I’m requesting, I have requested I should say, assistance from the small business administration. While the request was initially specific to two parishes with the highest number of cases, I have requested SBA assistance for all 64 parishes in the state. To get the process started, we had to start with those two parishes. However, we have already heard from the SBA and they are actively considering a statewide program eligibility.

John Bel Edwards: (02:29)
I’ve sent a letter to the President, the Vice President earlier today to request flexibility on how we can use existing community development block grant funds, and also for some flexibility on FEMA funds that we have at our disposal. We are hopeful that we’ll get the repurpose some of these unspent funds as a part of our overall response to the coronavirus crisis, and that we will be able to do so very, very quickly and with tremendous flexibility.

John Bel Edwards: (02:55)
If your workplace is temporarily closed or if you’ve been told to take unpaid time off, there is assistance available. As soon as you know that your employment has been affected by COVID-19, you should file an unemployment plain. Usually there’s a one week waiting period. By the Executive Order that I signed, we have waived that waiting period and the job search requirement for the time being, so people should understand that. If you’ve received a letter pertaining to the re-employment services and eligibility assessment, know that your benefits will not be disrupted during this time, and employers experience rating will not be impacted. To file an unemployment claim, please visit or call 866-783-5567. For information about SNAP, text GETSNAP, G-E-T-S-N-A-P, no spaces to 898211, email, or you can call 1-888-LAHELPU you, that’s 1-888-524-3578.

John Bel Edwards: (04:13)
Additionally, we know that times like this can take a toll on people’s mental health. We have a confidential hotline that is open 24/7, and that number is 1-866-310-7977, and we have expanded telephone capacity to handle a larger call volume than we would normally experience. One point I also want to make is that the proclamation of public health emergency has been amended several times and one change to point out is that eviction and foreclosure proceedings will not be moving forward at this time. What we can’t have is more homelessness at the very time that we’re fighting this pandemic, and this spread, because that actually is obviously counterproductive to that fight. However, the obligation to pay your mortgage and your rent is not suspended, so people should make their payments. So that’s one of the many legal deadlines that had been waived simply because we can’t put people out on the streets at this time.

John Bel Edwards: (05:14)
We’ve also announced that LA Wallet, the state’s official digital driver’s license will be made available to residents free of charge during this time. You can download LA Wallet through the app store on your phone. I know that measures that have been put in place are going to take some time to get used to and we are asking people to be patient. We’re asking people to comply. We are all in this together. We are all in this together. Cook at home, order take out, shop at your grocery store as you normally would, but please for only one week at a time, not for a month at a time. Our supply chain is going to be fine so long as we shop normally. And as I always do, I want to remind people of the social distancing practices that we should all be following. To the maximum extent possible, keep six feet between yourself and others, avoid large crowds, restrict non-essential travel, avoid handshaking, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds, cover your cough into your elbow, avoid touching your face, and frequently disinfect services.

John Bel Edwards: (06:25)
I want to reassure everybody we’re going to get through this. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but how much worse depends upon how we cooperate with one another. And I believe in the people of Louisiana. I believe in the inherent goodness and decency and the generosity of the people of our great state, and so I know that we’re going to come together again, one team, one heartbeat. I’m going to assure you that I will continue to working as hard as I can in cooperation with all of our statewide and local partners, but also with the federal government so that as soon as we have access to relief for people in Louisiana, we make that available to you. As soon as we have access to better information about additional precautions that we need to take, we’re going to put those in place, but we aren’t going to get through this.

John Bel Edwards: (07:14)
I’m going to be followed here by Attorney General Jeff Landry. I want to thank him for coming because we have some unscrupulous people out there who are engaging in some practices that we need to nip in the bud, and so I’m going to ask him to talk about that and anything else that he wants to share with the folks, and then after that will be followed by Coach Orgeron. After Coach Orgeron speaks, we’ll take your questions.

Jeff Landry: (07:43)
Good afternoon. Thank you Governor. Thank you all for being here. My name is Jeff Landry, and I’m an Attorney General for the state of Louisiana. Let me say that our number one priority is protecting the health and safety of the people of Louisiana. And if you look to my left and to my right, you can see that we are united in his goal. The Governor and I are standing here shoulder to shoulder and that’s how serious of a problem we face here. And so I want to say to the people of Louisiana, these are extraordinary times and they call for extraordinary actions, but this too shall pass, as the Governor said. The important thing is that we all work together. As the Governor has repeatedly said on behalf of our state government, the measures he has taken so far are intended to delay the spread of this virus. It’s intended to flatten the curve. That buys us time and time is our friend in that regard.

Jeff Landry: (08:47)
However, time can be our enemy if we don’t heed the concerns and instructions that our state and our federal partners put out. We don’t want to be like Italy in a few short weeks where health care providers are overwhelmed, where healthcare is being rationed, where doctors are faced with terrible decisions. In some cases, they have to decide who lives and who dies. We’re not here for that. We’re better than that. The Governor has issued increasingly more restrictive proclamations to address this ongoing and developing situation, and I am certain that the Governor is concerned as I am about the impact of such actions, and what they have on our citizenry and our economy in our state. As the Attorney General, I am of course especially concerned about actions which would seem to limit constitutional freedoms. However, in this special health emergency, the Governor is acting based upon his concern, on our concern, for the health and safety of the public.

Jeff Landry: (10:01)
We all want our friends and families and neighbors here in Louisiana to survive through this virus fight. We want to defeat this invisible enemy. I want to thank Coach O for standing with us today to express the importance of today’s message. If anyone could express the importance of a team concept and what winning looks like, it’s him, and I have full faith that in the end, Louisiana will conquer this epidemic. Make no mistake about it, we’re all here asking you all to help us save lives. You know, this isn’t the first time Louisiana has had an epidemic. Back in 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt described Louisiana’s response this way. He said, “They took hold of it and after it started they controlled and conquered it,” and we can do that again.

Jeff Landry: (11:01)
As Attorney General, some have asked me if the Governor has the authority to take certain actions like limiting the size of public gatherings, suspending legal deadlines, and ordering restaurants and bars to limit their service. The short answer is yes. The Governor, working with the public health office officers, and the Secretary of Department of Health, has broad scope of authority in a public healthcare crisis such as this, and it’s made to protect you and the public. There are much more drastic measures that could be taken, but he and the rest of our state government are working to not have to engage those drastic measures. To date, I could tell you that he is acting with restraint and considerations of individual liberty and freedoms, and I appreciate that. I feel strongly about those liberties and freedoms as well. He is asking, as well as I am asking, and Coach O as well, that the people follow these directives to slow the progress of the virus and ultimately save lives. All of us want these restrictions to be in place for the least amount of time necessary, but we want to ensure that we limit the threats.

Jeff Landry: (12:30)
Restrictions on restaurants and public gatherings are not done to limit individual liberty or political speech, in this specific case they’re done to limit the spread of the virus, and to protect people’s health and ultimately to save lives. Our staff at the Department of Justice is researching and reviewing the statutes, and ensuring that the emergency powers and the tools necessary for not only the Governor but the legislature and our courts are within reach in order to protect the public, and we want to make sure that all of this is rooted in common sense. In some cases we may need to make adjustments to make sure that we stay within the law in the Constitution. We’re communicating with the Governor and the legislature so that we can ensure that we stay within the scope of our authority while ensuring that we can address this threat.

Jeff Landry: (13:34)
But just like the team you see before you, including Coach O, we’re all working together as a team in this state. So let me remind you of a couple of things. Be patient. Again, we’re all working hard to protect you and the public. Please listen to the President of the United States and his coronavirus team when they give you warnings and suggestions on how you can fight back against this virus. Please listen to your state government, to Governor Edwards, and his entire team along with the President as we give state specific information. As I said, we’re trying at the Department of Justice to help find avenues to ensure that we stay within the law and protect the public here in Louisiana. That could be bumpy, but we are working all in good faith.

Jeff Landry: (14:33)
Of course, please follow the guidelines that the Governor has talked about about personal hygiene. More importantly, I can’t stress this enough. Stay home if you are sick except to get medical care. It’s important. If you have symptoms, seek out medical attention but also stay home. The spread of the virus is what we are trying to control. I will also in addition say that since the Governor declared a public health emergency, we’re encouraging Louisiana consumers to be conscientious about price gouging. We are actively working with law enforcement on around 51 allegations of price gouging. If consumers suspect price gouging, they should report it to their local law enforcement agency. We don’t want people or businesses to take advantage of this crisis. However, it’s important to note that gouging is not attributable to verifiable market fluctuations. So when you report these we ask that you get the name and address at a merchant, the price and receipt of the item or service, their names and addresses and phone numbers, so that they may be reached for further information if needed.

Jeff Landry: (16:00)
Lastly and unfortunately, please, please, please be careful not to fall prey to scam artists who are seeking to harm you, especially our seniors out there. I will be asking members of the news, media, and media companies to help us spread that message. Scam artists are using online tools, the telephone and even mail to try to trick people to spending their money. If you see something that concerns you, call our hotline. Be careful with unfamiliar companies or websites who claim they can sell you hard to find products usually with very high prices. Never give out your social security number, credit card or bank account information over the phone or internet unless you have initiated that contact. As you take precautions to protect your health, also take precautions to protect your finances.

Jeff Landry: (17:01)
So in closing, let’s all work together as one big Louisiana family to take care of one another. And as your Attorney General, we will continue to work every day along with the staff at the Department of Justice to help keep you safe. We can win and we’ll beat this working together.

Coach Orgeron: (17:23)
Thank you, Governor. Thank you, Attorney General. I’m here on behalf of the state of Louisiana. I’m the guy who was born in Louisiana, loves Louisiana, and the head coach of the national championship, LSU Tigers, and I want to encourage everyone to follow the game plan. I just sat in a meeting with the Governor. It was the most organized, most intense meeting, most well-informed meeting that I’ve ever been in. I can promise you this, the state of Louisiana is fortunate to have Governor Edwards being our leader. And I can tell you this, the state of Louisiana has people all over the state working as hard as they possibly can for us to get through this. But we all know we from Louisiana, we tough. We’re resilient. I encourage you to follow the game plan.

Coach Orgeron: (18:11)
Just like I asked the Tigers, man, we put 11 men on the field and we fight like tigers. It’s about execution. It’s about one team, one heartbeat, everybody pulling together like this, like this, nobody gets in between us. This is not the time to be selfish. I urge young people to stay home. Do the things that you need to do. You don’t need to be out on the streets doing all kinds of stuff. This is not the time to do that stuff. I do believe that we have a winning plan. I do believe in the state of Louisiana. Hey, it’s going to get tough and last the next two weeks. Come on. We tough. Bring it on. Let’s just follow the plan. Do the things that we supposed to do and I guarantee you we will win.

John Bel Edwards: (18:54)
Thank you, Coach, and thank you Attorney General Jeff Landry. Now we’ll take some questions. Yes sir.

Speaker 4: (18:59)
Governor, what about funerals? I’ve actually had a couple of questions about that from funeral directors, some obviously will not be able to [inaudible 00:19:08].

John Bel Edwards: (19:08)
Well, we would hope not, and we would hope that they do whatever they can through extended visitation periods to allow people to pay their respects and extend condolences to the family, but not more than 50 people at a time, and even there, we need people who are at most vulnerable, the older, the people with the chronic underlying health conditions to be especially careful. Look, this is a very, very difficult time and we’re asking people to do things that don’t come easily to us, you know? But, it’s critically important that we do this. We have literally about two weeks if we’re going to minimize this spread.

Speaker 4: (19:51)
Why do you say that? You mentioned that earlier. We have two weeks.

John Bel Edwards: (19:54)
Well, first of all, it’s the information that we’re getting from the U.S. Surgeon General. It is consistent with the information the President and the Vice President put out yesterday when they were talking about 15 days, and the next 15 days aren’t the only time period that we’re going to have to do these things, but they’re the most important, and it’s most important that we get cooperation and as many people in the public here in Louisiana and around the country, to take these measures, these mitigation measures into their daily lives, and make sure that their practicing them. Yes, sir.

Speaker 5: (20:27)
What’s your response to the church in Santorum who disobeyed the warnings and have service?

John Bel Edwards: (20:31)
Yeah, well it’s what I said earlier, and look, I’m not singling out any one service or any one individual. I’m asking everybody across the state of Louisiana, and I feel certain that the vast majority of our public is responding appropriately. I think that that will increase as the information is out there in terms of what these restrictions are, why they are necessary, as people watch the news, as they hear from me, and from the Attorney General, from the President and Senator Bill Cassidy and others. It takes a while before I think that the public becomes fully aware. But we are asking all of our leaders, no matter if they’re local leaders, leaders in the faith community, elected leaders, whatever, our football leaders, we’re asking everybody to make sure that we’re doing our part, and that we’re not doing things that are inconsistent with, and encouraging others to do things that are inconsistent with these precautions, these mitigation measures that we put in place. Yes, sir.

Speaker 6: (21:34)
Governor, New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, recently talked about the projections they have for this virus. He said the apex is probably about 45 days away. They talked about they need 110,000 hospital beds and they only have 50,000. Do you have projections for Louisiana for how far away this peak is, how many people may be infected during that peak?

John Bel Edwards: (21:54)
Yeah. Well, we’re working on that and obviously what we know is that peak is lower if people do, in the meantime, what we’ve asked them to do, and we’re evaluating our surge capacity at existing facilities, we’re creating new-

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