Gov. Edwards expresses confidence Louisiana can safely reopen, announces new federal food benefits for school-age children

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed confidence Friday that the state will be able to keep the spread of the coronavirus down and move forward with reopening Louisiana, as long as citizens and businesses do what they have been asked to do.

“It’s a big day for the state of Louisiana as the stay-at-home order has been lifted and we move into Phase 1, I’m actually confident that we can do this in a responsible way that adequately balances the competing interests of public health on the one hand and re-engaging more of our economy and getting businesses open and people back to work and patrons back in stores and so forth.”

Edwards made the comments during his latest briefing Friday on the status of COVID-19 in Louisiana and the state’s response to the pandemic Friday afternoon as businesses begin to reopen under a new statewide order.

You can read the Phase 1 proclamation here.  

“One of the worst things that can happen for the economy, by the way, is if you have to slow down, put on the brakes, or potentially go backwards by putting more restrictions in, in order to address spikes in cases. So we’re looking for business owners to be responsible and follow the guidance. We’re looking for individual members of the public to do the same thing.”

Fewer new cases were reported Friday, rising by less than 400 statewide to 33,837. But there were also far fewer test results reported to the state.

Edwards said over the next few weeks, health officials will be closely monitoring the number of COVID-19 cases as the state begins its first phase of reopening portions of the economy. As part of efforts to track and slow the spread of cases, Edwards said 298 contact tracers completed training this week, and that 290 should be in place and working on tracing contacts. The governor has previously said that up to 700 contact tracers will be hired for this purpose.

Edwards said contact tracing calls will come from 877-766-2130.

“Obviously, we’re still seeing COVID-19 caes in communities across Louisiana, and so any one of us can recieve a call from a contact tracer. It’s important that, if you do recieve such a call, that you participate.”

Edwards repeated reassurance to those concerned about privacy that the identities of those who test positive is never identified, and noted that contact tracing has been used for “many decades.” He also noted that it has been used in Louisiana for smallpox, tuberculosis, and Hepatitis A, as well.

The governor also announced Friday that the USDA has approved the state’s application for Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or P-EBT. This means Louisiana families affected by the halt of school lunch programs are eligible for federal assistance through the federal program.

Edwards said roughly 6,000 children, Pre-kindergarten through grade 12 are eligible for the food benefits for breakfast and lunch that would have been provided at school.  Applications can be submitted at louisianabelieves.com. The benefits will be issued through electronic cards.  

In other updates, Edwards said the Department of Motor Vehicle offices will reopen on Monday, May 18. Read the OMV’s “Know Before You GO” information here.

The governor also had a few words for college students getting ready to graduate.

“I know this is not how you all envisioned celebrating the particular milestone and I apologize for that. You are going to have a story to tell your children and grandchildren about for a long time. But I want you to know that I and so many people are very, very proud of each and every one of you and your accomplishments.”

“The degree you are about to receive empowers you to make a real difference,” said Edwards, urging graduates to “find ways big and small to make a difference and it’s never more important than it is right now.”

“Louisiana is proud of you and Louisiana has a bright future because of each and every one of you.”

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