BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards told reporters at the Baton Rouge Press Club on March 2 that the state is preparing to deal with the threat of the COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus.
Edwards also announced he has established a new COVID-19 Task Force that will offer guidance to state agencies.
The task force, created by Edwards, is made up of state and federal officials from the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), the Office of Public Health, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Louisiana National Guard, the United States Coast Guard, Louisiana State Police, and several other agencies.
“Louisiana has been working on pandemic preparedness for the last 15 years,” Edwards said. “We have a comprehensive state pandemic plan and we’ve also encouraged pandemic planning both in the governmental sector and in the private sector.”
“I am reassured by the leadership of Governor Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Health in preparation of cases of novel (new) coronavirus ‘COVID-19’ appearing in Louisiana. I want to reassure the public that the city-parish is being proactive and maintaining constant communication with local area medical providers and state health officials,” said East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome after Edwards’ press conference.
The mayor says her office is also monitoring the situation and working with health officials to help prevent the spread of the virus.
As a precaution, the state has asked some Louisianans who’ve recently traveled abroad to stay home from work or school. Roughly 24 people are currently reporting their temperatures to LDH officials each day, and will do so for a total of two weeks.
If LDH does not receive a daily update from these travelers, the department will send investigators to their homes to check in. So far, 80 total people have been monitored this way and none have exhibited symptoms.
Edwards urged Louisiana residents not to panic, but to remain vigilant against the threat of the coronavirus. He said it’s a matter of “when, not if” the virus will reach Louisiana.
Edwards asked residents to avoid going out in public places like work or school if they are feeling sick and to wash their hands regularly.
State health officials are taking the threat of the disease seriously and have been in daily contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to Edwards.
The governor also said the Louisiana Office of Public Health’s State Laboratory is now able to test for the coronavirus. The facility will use testing guidelines provided by the CDC.
Positive results will be sent off to the CDC for final confirmation.
Officials say the CDC does expect the coronavirus to spread in some parts of the U.S. Currently, there are more than 90 cases confirmed elsewhere in the country and six people in the U.S. have died, according to health officials.
“While we currently do not have any confirmed cases of coronavirus in Louisiana, we do anticipate that we will in the future. That’s why Louisiana’s Department of Health and other agencies have been planning for several weeks on how the state will respond to prevent the spread of the virus and protect the health of the public,” Edwards said in a news release issued before the conference.
"For now, people should take commonsense steps to protect themselves from respiratory illness, including washing their hands, covering their mouths when they cough, and avoiding going out in public when they are sick,” Edwards said.
Health officials say they are most worried about protecting the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
Edwards urged the public to look for official information about new cases from the CDC, LDH, or his office.
Anyone with questions about the virus can contact the CDC’s coronavirus general information line at 1-855-523-2652 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.