As coronavirus cases grow higher, Louisiana orders statewide ‘stay at home’ order

Published 4:24 pm Sunday, March 22, 2020

Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered all 4.6 million people in Louisiana to voluntarily stay at home starting at 5 p.m. on Monday unless they’re performing an essential task like getting food or medicine.

First-responders and workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors’ offices and other critical infrastructure are exempt from his directive, which will remain in effect until April 12, and could be extended beyond that.

The directive doesn’t describe any details on enforcement, and leaves people with plenty of maneuvering room.

Essential activities, it says, include getting exercise and fresh air, walking their pets, going to family homes and places of worship. But in all cases, people should practice social distancing, avoid groups of 10 or more, and shouldn’t visit friends or family without an “urgent need.”

“The bottom line is we are in a race against time when it comes to this coronavirus and its rapid spread in Louisiana,” Edwards said at a news conference on Sunday.

Edwards said voluntary compliance is the best way to contain the virus, he said.

“We’re not going to be doing checkpoints and asking people to tell us why they’re out and about,” the Democrat said. “If the people of Louisiana demand that we enforce it before they honor it, we are in deep trouble, so I’m asking people to be good citizens.”

Edwards said Louisiana could run out of health care capacity between seven to 10 days.

“There is no reason to believe we won’t be the next Italy,” Edwards said. Already, Louisiana has the third highest number of cases per capita among U.S. states, he said.

This coronavirus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks.

But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in some, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators.

New York, California, Illinois and some cities have issued similar shelter in place orders in the last few days. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell had issued a similar order for that city two days ago.

State health officials said infections in Louisiana climbed to more than 830 on Sunday, with 20 deaths, as testing became more available. Edwards described a tenfold increase in just one week.

“I do not take this action lightly, but there are some basic facts that we just simply cannot deny or ignore,” Edwards said.

Edwards said restaurants can remain open for carry-out or delivery, and critical manufacturers, agriculture and utilities must continue. But he said businesses such as theaters, concert halls, hair salons and children’s play places should close.

As for day care centers, he said they should follow guidelines from state education and health officials; it’s important, he said, that some of these remain open so health care employees can go to work.