Heading into Labor Day weekend, Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed concern that evacuations from Hurricane Laura could fuel the spread of the coronavirus.
When the Category 4 storm made landfall last week, it devastated large portions of Southwest Louisiana and scattered tens of thousands residents of a coronavirus hot spot across the state.
Edwards said Thursday that the state has placed nearly 12,000 evacuees in shelters. Thousands more are sheltering with relatives or staying in hotels on their own dime.
An unknown number of Louisianans are being sheltered by the state of Texas, Edwards added. He urged any Louisiana residents sheltering in Texas hotels to stay put, saying that a surge of evacuees returning to Louisiana in search of shelter could overwhelm the state’s ability to place them in a non-congregate setting. Evacuees would have to wait in a traditional congregate shelter, where the coronavirus could spread more easily.
Edwards also expressed concern that the coronavirus could spread among the “tens of thousands” of out-of-state workers who came to Louisiana to assist in recovery efforts.
“We have an awful lot of movement, of people coming into contact with one another, and I’m talking specifically about COVID-19,” Edwards said.
On top of that, Edwards said he’s concerned about the virus spreading at the backyard barbecues and informal gatherings likely to pop-up this weekend.
“We know that the last surge in cases in Louisiana started with Memorial Day, the holiday weekend that traditionally starts summer,” Edwards said. “Now we’re about to have Labor Day, the holiday weekend that ends summer.”
The governor urged Louisianans to use the utmost caution if they go to any Labor Day celebrations. He advised at-risk individuals to stay home.
Testing has slowed in the weeks preceding and following the storm as the state devoted more
resources to preparations and recovery. Thousands of members of the Louisiana National Guard who were assisting with community testing sites were redirected to Southwest Louisiana to conduct search and rescue operations and provide logistical support.
Recovery efforts are ongoing in Southwest Louisiana.
More than 200,000 customers are without power, according to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. That number includes 98 percent of customers in Calcasieu and Cameron Parish.
"We’re getting to the point now where the remaining customers are going to be harder; it's going to take longer to get their power restored,” Edwards said.
High winds downed hundreds of large transmission towers, which may take a month to replace, according to Edwards.
Damage to the state’s aging water infrastructure has left more than half a million residents without potable water, according to the latest data from the Louisiana Department of Health.
The state department of health also confirmed Thursday that two more individuals died of heat-related illness and another died of carbon monoxide poisioning in areas affected by Hurricane Laura, bringing the storm's death toll to 20 in the state.