Edwards sounds alarm as Louisiana COVID-19 cases climb, topping 200,000 since pandemic began
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards sounded the alarm Friday as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rose to their highest levels in months.
Edwards blamed lax mitigation behavior during Halloween and a petition from Republican House members to overturn his mitigation orders that the governor said created public confusion.
A state judge sided with Edwards Thursday, ruling the petition is unconstitutional.
"New cases are rising sharply across state and in all regions," Edwards said during a press conference. "We are reporting the largest number of COVID cases (3,492) that we have thus far. Let that sink in."
About 800 of those cases were discovered using antigen tests, which aren't considered as reliable as the molecular tests such as PCR tests.
The state's total case count since the pandemic began passed 200,000 Friday, to 201,981.
Hospitalizations also rose to 692 Friday. Twenty-four more deaths were reported for a total of 6,121.
Edwards said Louisiana remains in a better position than many other states where hospitalization capacity is being threatened because of a third COVID surge, but he said people must be vigilant to avoid such a surge here.
"Is Louisiana in (another surge)? No, but we're on a trajectory to get there," he said. "That is going to be our reality if we don't (increase adherence to mitigation measures). We can turn this around, but we have to start now."
"We're not yet threatening hospital capacity," said Dr. Joseph Kanter of the Louisiana Department of Health. "We are getting close. We can see concerning (increases) if we don't double down on the mitigation measures."
Edwards blames GOP petition for confusion
Edwards, a Democrat, said the Republican-backed House petition seeking to overturn his order is partially responsible for the state's increase in infections.
"There's no doubt that petition in and of itself led to diminished adherence to mitigation measures," he said.
The governor said he doesn't currently plan to increase restrictions from Phase 3, but didn't rule it out if the state's hospitalization capacity is threatened.
"We don't have to move backward to Phase 2 or to Phase 1, but the people of Louisiana will determine whether we have to do that. I'm imploring everyone to get serious again. I'm hopeful; I'm optimistic."
Among the state specific recommendations for Louisiana from the White House this week: “Mitigation efforts should continue to include wearing masks in public; physical distancing; hand hygiene; avoiding or eliminating the opportunities for mask-less crowding in public, including bars, and eliminating all social gatherings beyond the immediate household; and ensuring flu immunizations.”
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.