- Associated Press - Thursday, March 12, 2020

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s governor announced new visiting restrictions at nursing homes and state prisons Thursday, after meeting with U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams to talk about the rise in new coronavirus cases, particularly around New Orleans.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the number of people testing positive for the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus grew to 19 by Thursday afternoon, only three days after the state’s first case was reported. The positive tests are awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Edwards declared a public health emergency Wednesday. On Thursday, the state corrections department suspended visitation at all state prisons for 30 days, while visitor access was limited at nursing homes and hospitals around Louisiana, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to vulnerable populations.

“We’re at an inflection point here,” Edwards said repeatedly. Of the restrictions, he added: “We are doing this for the protection of their loved one.”

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Most people recover within weeks, as has happened with three-quarters of those infected in mainland China.



As fears about community spread of the virus increased, Louisiana State University joined other universities in announcing plans to move classes online across all of its campuses statewide, except the medical schools. Classes will be canceled from March 16 until the online coursework starts March 30.

Edwards enacted travel restrictions on state employees. Sports events, including major basketball conference championships and games scheduled in New Orleans, were canceled. Baton Rouge’s mayor announced the city won’t issue permits for public events until further notice. And the Louisiana Legislature, only one week into its three-month session, began working on contingency plans for must-pass bills, such as the budget - in case lawmakers decide to shut down work early.

Nearly all of the state’s positive coronavirus cases involve people who live in New Orleans or one of its suburbs - including several people at a New Orleans nursing home who tested positive. But one case has been identified in northwest Louisiana, according to the state health department.

Edwards said the state is ramping up testing for COVID-19, and Adams - in the state for a previously scheduled event - said he’s confident Louisiana has the needed testing capacity.

But both the surgeon general and the governor said that doesn’t mean people should be getting tested if they don’t have symptoms, haven’t traveled to countries with large outbreaks of the virus or meet the other criteria outlined by the CDC. Adams said testing too early if a person doesn’t have symptoms for the new coronavirus could give false reassurance when a test turns up negative.

“We don’t want to utilize our limited resources testing people willy-nilly,” the surgeon general said. “We want to utilize our resources in a targeted manner to make sure people who are most at risk, people who are symptomatic can get a test done quickly, can get their results back quickly.”

Officials continued to urge people to take precautions, but not panic.

Edwards said that even those who are least at risk for death from the virus should wash their hands frequently and keep away from others if sick, to avoid worsening the risk for those who are elderly or who have chronic medical conditions.

“Everybody in Louisiana has a role to play,” he said.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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