Edwards appoints commission to plan reopening state economy

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Gov. John Bel Edwards discusses the state's investment in the LTRI building. (Stacey Tinsley/Press-Tribune)

An 18-member commission will help the state plot a course for eventually reopening businesses shuttered during the fight against the new coronavirus, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday morning.

Governor Edwards’ announcement came as the state’s COVID-19 death toll climbed by 53. Now 1,156 people have died of coronavirus in Louisiana.

Edwards said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican, will be among those serving on the Resilient Louisiana Commission. The commission will be led by state Secretary of Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson and health care consultant Terrie Sterling.

He said the group will be “instrumental” in helping the state revive its economy.

“We’re not going to get back to normal until we have a vaccine and some effective therapeutic treatments,” Edwards said at a morning, live-streamed news conference. “But, we’re not going to wait until then to start reopening the economy.”

Still, Edwards made clear that the reopening won’t be immediate. He pointed to statistics indicating stay-at-home orders and business closures have slowed the spread of COVID-19 and avoided overwhelming state hospitals.

“This is not the time to let up,” Edwards said.

Rep. Steve Scalise attended the news conference and agreed with the governor. “We’re not talking about picking a choice between safety and economic recovery,” Scalise added. “You can do both and we have to do both.”

The state has seen encouraging signs in combating the virus, with slowing rates of new infections and new hospitalizations, and fewer patients on ventilators. Edwards credits people remaining physically distanced from others.

By Thursday there have been 22,532 confirmed cases in Louisiana. And the number has consistently increased as testing has become more available.