BATON ROUGE -- This week, President Donald Trump said his goal is for the nation’s economy to be “opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”
And while that may be a realistic timetable for certain parts of the country, Gov. John Bel Edwards isn’t so sure that’s plausible in Louisiana, which is experiencing the third-highest rate of the novel coronavirus per capita in the country.
“Until we see the curve flattening and we can see daylight at the end of this tunnel, it’s hard for me to pick a date on the calendar and say by this date we’ll be out on the other side,” Edwards said.
Speaking to reporters this week, Edwards stressed his desire to see the state’s economy back on track and people “go back to work,” though not at the expense of stemming the spread of the disease, which could soon overwhelm the state’s healthcare infrastructure.
Louisiana currently has 2,305 reported cases of the novel coronavirus — up more than 500 from the day before — in 53 of the state’s 64 parishes. The current death toll stands at 83, an increase of 18 from the previous day.
On Sunday, Edwards issued a statewide “stay at home” order effective through Sunday, April 12, or Easter day. As part of the order, the governor said the state is following guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security, specifically its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Department, as to who goes to work and who does not.
The order has already had far-reaching repercussions, most notably 71,000 Louisiana residents applying for unemployment benefits, according to Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Dejoie.
Speaking during a town hall hosted by Louisiana Public Broadcasting, Dejoie said volume has been “through the roof” as people scramble to apply for the $247 weekly benefit. Phone lines and computers went down because of the volume, requiring the third-party administrator that runs the site to add more servers.
“Our capacity is stretched thin,” Dejoie said.
To help Americans through the coronavirus pandemic, Congressional lawmakers are working on a $2 trillion stimulus bill that would see single Americans receive $1,200, married couples get $2,400 and parents see $500 for each child under age 17.
When asked about Trump’s Easter timetable, Edwards said he has “every intention” of gauging the situation and “looking at the facts” as the calendar draws closer to April 13, the day his current order would stop.
“If necessary, we will extend some of the measures that we have taken,” he said.
Edwards continued to stress the importance of “flattening the curve” of the coronavirus, saying that it’s hard to see the economy — which he said was fourth-fastest growing economy in the country when the coronavirus hit — returning in a “robust fashion” if the state is struggling to deliver healthcare.
For now, the governor said he is going to “rely on science” and advice from the medical community, saying it is difficult to see the economy “coming back under any circumstance” if the state cannot “tackle the medical challenge.”
“The best thing for us right now is to focus on these mitigation measures and making sure they’re effective,” he said. “To the degree that we are successful, we will hasten the day when we can reopen all sectors of our economy.
“We had the fourth-fastest growing economy in the country when this hit us. I want that to happen, too. But my first priority is the health and safety of the people in Louisiana.”