Starting Monday, schools will be closed all across the state, public gatherings will be limited, and city government operations will be restricted. Residential evictions have been suspended. Non-essential visitation is limited at hospitals, nursing homes, state prisons and parish jails. Jury trials are suspended.
Gov. John Bel Edwards joined Mayor Cantrell and other city officials in New Orleans today to offer updates on government response to the spread of COVID-19.
As of Friday afternoon, there are 36 presumptively positive cases in Louisiana. Twenty-six of those cases are clustered in New Orleans. In an effort to limit the spread of the virus, the city is restricting access to City Hall to 50 people at a time, asking many workers to work from home, and suspending all City Council meetings through the end of March. Other meetings will take place online or over the phone.
Edwards has instituted a ban on gatherings of 250 people or more — including church groups — based on CDC guidelines, for the next 30 days. The restrictions don’t apply to public spaces like malls or grocery stores. Churches, however, are included.
Edwards said, “The sooner we minimize the spread of adverse health consequences from coronavirus, the sooner that we’re going to return to the Louisiana way of life and get back to normal.
“But there is some period of time where we’re going to have a new normal,” he added.
All K-12 schools are closed until April 13, starting on Monday.
Mayor Cantrell says the city is working to provide meals to families in the greater New Orleans area as they navigate childcare challenges as a result of school closures. New Orleans Public Schools plans to institute a citywide meal program. The Orleans Parish School Board has granted $5 million in emergency spending funds for NOLA Public Schools, according to Cantrell.
Officials explained that the impetus behind these restrictions is to slow the spread of the virus so that hospitals do not become overwhelmed by patients. For the majority of the population, the viral infection is no more serious than a flu, but for about 20 percent of people, especially the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, it can be deadly.
Director of the New Orleans Department of Health Jennifer Avegno emphasized, “These are the people who we do not want to contract the virus. All 400,000 New Orleanians and all Louisianans have a role to play in protecting these individuals.”
Officials stressed that the public practice social distancing — keeping a distance of six feet between yourself and others, and avoiding unnecessary public contact.
Avegno said, “Call your neighbors and family members to see if they need help. We can still be a community, even if it’s not in-person.”
Officials acknowledged that testing kits for the virus were limited, and that they’re working with private labs to increase access.
Cantrell said she is working with a number of committees on how the viral outbreak might affect vulnerable populations like the homeless. The Greater New Orleans Foundation announced immediate grants today to a number of community groups, including The New Orleans Council on Aging, Jefferson Council on Aging, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana.
Operations will also be limited at public-facing state agencies like the Office of Motor Vehicles, but Edwards wasn’t explicit about what that would mean.
Businesses are feeling the impacts of the virus scare. People are canceling trips and events, impacting caterers, restaurants, gyms, schools, stores and businesses of all kinds.
The U.S. Small Business Administration announced today that it is offering disaster loans to small businesses across the country suffering as a result of the coronavirus.
The administration will work with governors to provide low interest disaster recovery loans of up to $2 million.
The city’s NOLA READY program is offering updates on the spread of the virus. To sign up, text COVID NOLA to 888-777.
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