- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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April 29

The Advocate on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ extending stay-at-home orders and potentially opening up some businesses with restrictions:

Anyone who’s been paying attention to Gov. John Bel Edwards knew he wasn’t going to “reopen” all of the businesses in the state when he made his update announcement Monday.



It’s simply too soon to pursue a wide-open return to life as it was. But it’s clear that businesses and employees are struggling, and some say the shutdown is more damaging than the virus.

Before Monday, the governor’s stay-at-home order was scheduled to expire Friday. Most people thought Edwards would gently loosen the restrictions. That wasn’t the case.

Edwards threw a curve ball.

Instead of announcing some soft loosening, the governor announced an extension of the stay-at-home order through May 15.

Based on the advice of his Louisiana Department of Health leaders, epidemiologists, other scientists and public health experts from inside and outside of government, Edwards pivoted. He said we’re not ready for next steps to open the state’s economy and return thousands of people to their jobs. Edwards said while we’ve made good progress toward flattening the curve and stemming community spread of COVID-19, the data shows we’re not doing well enough.

There are changes. Effective May 1, restaurant customers can eat outdoors if the establishments have outdoor seating with enough space for social distancing, but without table service. Shopping mall stores can operate, but only with curbside retail and public-facing employees wearing masks. Meanwhile, bars, dine-in restaurants and barbershops must remain closed before starting a phased reopening of the economy on May 16.

Other states in our region are knocking down restrictions, and it would be nice to be confident that we can join them. But Louisiana’s rate of infection is higher than our neighbors. We have more COVID-19 cases than Texas, which has six times as many people. We’re more like Massachusetts than Mississippi.

The guidelines for reopening are very detailed, and they didn’t come from Nancy Pelosi or Andrew Cuomo. They were issued, and supported, by a president who has been the No. 1 cheerleader for restarting our economy. The governor said he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence before announcing his decision.

The guidelines include precise measurements, like a downward progress of COVID-like cases over 14 days - a standard that has been met in some but not all parts of Louisiana. In addition, the hospital system must be able to treat all patients without crisis care, and robust testing, including emerging antibody testing, must be available for at-risk health care workers.

Sad to say, we’re not quite there, but it looks like we will be by May 16. Even then, we will have to be careful. But we know that the people of Louisiana are ready to get back to work, and they will do so with conviction and compassion.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com/

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April 24

The (Lake Charles) American Press on student’s needing computers and access to the internet:

Many students in Louisiana’s public schools are facing disadvantages when it comes to online learning. They either don’t have computers or internet service, or both, according to a recent survey by the state Department of Education.

More than 1 in 4 public school students lack access to a computer or tablet at home that is needed since public schools are closed for the rest of the current school year. The Advocate said just 66% of students have internet access at home and 78% have access to a phone that can be used for conference calls and learning.

The survey means that more than 200,000 of the 720,000 public school children (28%) lack home access to a computer or tablet amid a shutdown that will total nine weeks. The newspaper said two thirds of students, nearly half a million, live in low-income households.

Sandy Holloway, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), said the results of the survey mean many students are unable to connect to their new online classrooms. It was reported recently that 39 of 69 school districts were offering some form of distance education, but all districts are offering students some form of continuing education.

The latest survey shows that 32% of districts are connecting with students daily, 38% weekly and 30% at some other frequency. A total of 173,000 students (24%) are getting no feedback.

Belinda Davis, another member of BESE, said the survey lets them know that online learning isn’t going to be the sole solution for the state without a major investment by school districts. She said the survey points to the limitations educators face in trying to minimize learning gaps.

Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said some superintendents are trying to get computers to the homes of students. However, he said if they don’t also have internet service, “what good is it?” Other challenges, he said, are web security and ensuring firewalls can withstand ransomware attacks.

In order to make up for lost time, the survey showed that 70% of the respondents are making contingency plans for summer school and 28% are studying an earlier start to the 2020-21 school year. It also highlighted the need for support of those with disabilities and professional training needed for teachers to aid in remote learning.

Education officials and legislators need to begin finding ways to get more computers into the hands of students and to give them the internet service already enjoyed by other students.

Online: https://www.americanpress.com/

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April 16

The Houma Courier on preparing for storm season:

Hurricane season starts in six weeks, and this one will be more complicated than normal because Terrebonne, Lafourche, Louisiana and the rest of the country will still be dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. John Bel Edwards made that clear Thursday during his daily briefing on the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“There are all sorts of things that we’re going to have to consider,” the governor said in response to a citizen question about hurricane season, which runs June 1 through Nov. 30. “To shelter the same number of people, we’re going to have to have multiple shelters so that we can practice social distancing. We’re going to need to provide PPE. We’re going to have to have additional medical personnel in any shelter that we open.

Edwards said Louisiana’s Emergency Preparedness Office has been working for the past month to incorporate coronavirus accommodations into the state’s hurricane plan. And the state will conduct a test run of that plan May 14 in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service.

Terrebonne and Lafourche parish officials told The Courier and Daily Comet about a week ago that they have been doing the same kind of work.

“We’ve been in contact with our departments to make sure they’re prepared,” said Earl Eues, Terrebonne’s emergency preparedness director. “In the event we have to do an evacuation, we’ll decide on what we need to do as far as people who are still COVID-positive that may need to be evacuated. We’ll work with the Louisiana Department of Health and (the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management) on where those people will be evacuated. We’ll be prepared to do whatever we need to do to take care of our residents.”

Evacuees, including special-needs cases, would require more buses to keep folks a safe distance apart. And moving coronavirus victims on ventilators could become a major endeavor that would require action well before a storm approaches the coast – assuming there’s hospital space inland to take them.

The message now is to be prepared. Stay abreast of new plans that are forthcoming from local and state officials. The Courier and Daily Comet will provide updates as officials release them.

And do the basics now required before any hurricane season. Among them:

- Make sure you have an emergency kit that includes a few days’ worth of drinking water and nonperishable food, along with supplies like a flashlight, batteries, medications and pet food.

- Identify ahead of time where you could go if you are told to evacuate. Choose several places — a friend’s home in another town, a motel or a shelter.

You can find lots of other tips in the e-Edition of our 40-page annual hurricane guide. Look for the link in a section labeled “Our Picks” on the home pages at houmatoday.com and dailycomet.com. We’ll release an updated guide before the season begins. Another great resource is getagameplan.org, run by the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

To weather this storm season safely will require everyone to be prepared in advance and to adapt as plans are updated to handle the coronavirus crisis. Get started now.

Online: https://www.houmatoday.com/

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