BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Experts are concerned after pictures have surfaced online showing several large gatherings in the capital area that show folks partying and crowding businesses with what appears to be a lack of social distancing and few face masks.
A huge line of folks literally spilled out of the Ross Dress for Less store on Siegen Lane over the weekend. Despite reminders from a nearby sign, social distancing seemed to be a distant memory for eager shoppers ready to crowd into the store. In Tangipahoa Parish, live music rocked a crowd at the Prop Stop bar on the Ticfaw River. Both scenes played out during the unofficial start of summer as many folks chose to gather without masks over the Memorial Day weekend.
Folks also swarmed the newly reopened Krispy Kreme on Plank Road at one point Tuesday, May 26. WAFB has confirmed all of the images were taken since Friday and all of them now have experts worried the long holiday weekend may have been a little too relaxed and could put more people at risk. New Orleans-based health educator, Dr. Eric Griggs, calls it disturbing. The pictures were sent to the 9News Investigators and show folks jammed into tight spaces, without social distancing in place and with very few masks between all of the locations.
“It’s all fun and games until it happens to you or someone in your circle,” said Dr. Griggs. “All of the data has shown us is that the more people congregate, the more the virus spreads.”
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the doctor if he’s afraid people believe the threat of the virus has passed.
“Oh, I’m absolutely afraid that people feel like that,” he said. “I know that the human spirit is strong and we really want to be outside, but nothing has changed and the virus is going to do what the virus does. We just have to be smart about it.”
Many folks have likely heard about “super spreader” events. They’re classified as large gatherings that have the potential to set off new spikes in cases. While it may seem innocent, it’s hard to tell how many gatherings actually happened in the capital area over the weekend.
The 9News Investigators checked with the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LAOSFM) about the weekend complaints. A spokesperson says there were a total of four complaints that came in over the weekend, including at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center, the Legacy at Bonne Esperance, the Baton Rouge Country Club, and Southern Oaks Athletic Club. No citations were given. Most of the complaints were either unfounded or management agreed to comply with the social distancing guidelines. As people become more desperate to get out of the house and take back a bit of normalcy, Dr. Griggs tells WAFB any of the crowded areas could easily create a new hot spot and derail all the progress made in Louisiana in the last few months if people are not responsible.
“Nothing has changed. We need to practice social distancing, wear masks, and wash our hands, because that’s all we have right now. We don’t have any form of therapy and we have nothing else we know that works,” Griggs added. “The job is to keep people safe and alive. This is not punishment. This is to protect you.”
Some argue the coronavirus is no different than the flu and it’s past time for people to get back to normal. Griggs says that argument just does not hold up when the number of deaths across the nation is compared between the flu and the coronavirus.
"The flu kills roughly 35,000 people a year and here in a few months, we've eclipsed 100,000," said Griggs.
While it’s too early to tell how either of the gatherings over the weekend might affect the numbers in Louisiana, Griggs is concerned the large crowds could have the state moving in the wrong direction against a virus we still don’t know that much about.
“It’s not like anything we’ve ever seen before or else we’d know how to combat it. We’re discovering something. We are actually living through the scientific process and as we do that, we want to try to keep as many people safe as possible,” said Griggs.
Experts say they’ll be watching the numbers closely moving forward. They tell WAFB we could see the impact of this weekend’s gatherings in about two weeks.
Click here to report a typo.