As Louisiana and the nation continue making strides in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the significant drop in cases and hospitalizations and the wide availability of safe and effective vaccines, for the first time in 24 months, Gov. John Bel Edwards will not renew his COVID public health emergency order when it expires this week. Gov. Edwards made the announcement today in his address at the opening of Louisiana’s 2022 Regular Legislative Session.
“On March 11, 2020 I signed a public health emergency for COVID-19. And while it changed to reflect the ebb and flow of the pandemic, it has remained in effect ever since. This Wednesday, the order expires, and after 24 months, I will not be renewing it,” Gov. Edwards said. “This decision was not made lightly. I have met with GOHSEP, the Department of Health, the Louisiana National Guard, and the Division of Administration to ensure that there will be no federal aid repercussions or other adverse consequences from not renewing the proclamation. I want to be clear that just because the proclamation is expiring doesn’t mean COVID is over. If the circumstances call for it, I will not hesitate to declare another emergency. God willing, we will never have to see such difficult mitigation measures in our state again. Thankfully, at this time, we are no longer in a crisis. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that we are in a much better place today than we were two years ago.”
Gov. Edwards and his public health advisors will continue to monitor the situation with COVID and provide the public with updates and guidance as is necessary to manage public health in Louisiana’s communities and also to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed. Should additional needs arise or the situation change, the Governor could revisit his emergency order in the future.
According to new community risk models from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of Louisiana’s parishes have a low risk for COVID spread.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have continued to follow the science and the data to guide our response,” said State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter. “Thankfully, we are in a much better situation and a much stronger position than we have been. At the same time, it is not lost on us that today marks the second anniversary of our first COVID-19 death in Louisiana. In just 24 months, nearly 17,000 Louisianans have lost their lives. This pandemic is certainly not over, and our collective work remains unfinished, but I do believe better days are ahead. The COVID-19 vaccines have saved countless lives — and they, therapeutics and a deeper understanding of this virus strengthen us.”
“I’m so proud of what the men and women of the Louisiana National Guard have accomplished during this unprecedented time of need,” said Maj. Gen. Keith Waddell, adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard. “I am also grateful for the relationships and partnerships we have built with local officials from all 64 parishes, other state agencies, and our federal partners. Together, we succeeded in responding to COVID-19 with innovative tactics, techniques, and procedures which has benefitted our citizens and visitors to our state. I want the citizens of Louisiana to know that the Louisiana National Guard will continue to Protect What Matters.”
Currently, all epidemiological data points to a decline in COVID-like illness, new COVID cases and hospitalizations. According to CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels, the majority of parishes are currently classified as low. Two years into the COVID pandemic, Louisiana has many more tools to control the spread of the coronavirus in its communities, including safe and effective vaccines, booster doses, antiviral drugs, monoclonal antibody treatments, at-home tests, and high-quality face masks.
Before allowing the COVID Public Health emergency order to expire for the first time in two years, Gov. Edwards consulted with cabinet officials, including LDH, GOHSEP, the Division of Administration and the Louisiana National Guard to ensure that the state could continue to provide the support necessary to manage COVID in Louisiana’s communities. Many other states have let their emergency orders expire, even as COVID has continued.
Louisiana will continue to support community vaccination and testing as the pandemic requires. Now that the state is no longer in a crisis mode, COVID-19 activities including vaccination and testing will increasingly begin to return to traditional healthcare settings. COVID-19 testing and vaccinations will remain widely available at local pharmacies, primary care clinics, and FQHCs throughout the state. Call 211 to find a test site or vaccination location near you.
Since March 2020, more than 16,913 people have died from COVID in Louisiana, and there have been more than 1.23 million cases. Click here to review the latest epidemiological data about COVID in Louisiana.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT FROM STATE AGENCIES
State agencies have worked tirelessly through the COVID pandemic to serve the public in a safe way, and will continue to support community operations as needed.
Since the start of the COVID pandemic in Louisiana, LANG and LDH have partnered to ensure that community testing and vaccination sites have been available across Louisiana. LANG has administered more than 628,000 COVID tests since the start of the pandemic, staffing 283 community-based testing sites. In the Omicron surge alone, LDH and its partners provided one million rapid tests to the public.
Since December 2020, more than 2.4 million people in Louisiana have completed their COVID-19 vaccine series, including thousands who attended one of the 5,728 community events supported by LDH and the Bring Back Louisiana campaign. Bring Back Louisiana knocked on nearly 300,000 doors, and so far has fielded more than 72,000 calls to its vaccine hotline. It also supported the Shot for 100 and Shot at a Million programs. In total, 873,593 people registered for Shot at a Million and more than 43,000 people got incentive cards at general vaccination events. In addition, 36 colleges and universities participated in the incentive program, distributing 26,475 $100 incentive cards.
Louisiana’s National Guard will continue to support six food banks. LANG has packaged 45.4 million pounds of food, conducted thousands of transportation missions and made sure that the early supply of ventilators was able to get to the patients that needed them.
Through the Safer Smarter Schools program, LDH and its partners administered more than 778,000 K-12 routine COVID tests at 596 participating schools.
In addition, the Office of State Fire Marshal, LDH and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control launched the OpenSafely portal to help businesses operate safely during the early months of the pandemic, before vaccines were available. These agencies completed more than 19,000 inspections and educated thousands of business owners about the importance of mitigation measures. More than 30,000 businesses registered to get updates through OpenSafely.
State Fire Marshal personnel also coordinated and conducted 94 vaccination events that involved all 64 parishes and included corrections facilities, college campuses and high-volume public locations like the Mall of Louisiana. This program administered more than 10,000 initial vaccination series and 1,200 booster doses. The office also provided 5,500 COVID tests, primarily to public safety personnel.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission delivered nearly $11 billion in unemployment benefits since the COVID-19 pandemic started to hundreds of thousands of Louisianans in every corner of the state helping them keep a roof over their heads and food on the table for their families. At a time when thousands of Louisianans were laid off and didn’t know when their next paycheck would come, LWC stepped up to quickly deliver benefits to people in need.
DCFS served nearly a record 1 million Louisiana residents with SNAP benefits, issued over $3.2M in temporary emergency cash assistance to more than 3,000 children in TANF households, and changed service delivery to include SNAP Online Purchasing and Virtual DSNAP. COVID-related food assistance was provided through various programs including: $800.4M in Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits to almost 653,000 school children for the 2019 and 2020 school years and summer, $130.13M in P-EBT benefits to 106,763 children from SNAP households, and $1.37B in COVID Emergency Allotments to SNAP clients.
DCFS also managed an 8-month emergency sheltering operation in response to 2020 hurricanes, sheltering almost 13,000 evacuees in 58 non-congregate (hotel) shelters and supported three COVID Isolation Sites, which served 1,266 clients.
The Louisiana Department of Revenue administered two state programs to support Louisiana residents, businesses and non-profit organizations during this unprecedented emergency. The Frontline Workers Hazard Pay Rebate Program provided more than $38 million dollars in much-needed financial relief to more than 150,000 essential employees who stayed on the job during the early days of the pandemic in grocery, healthcare, emergency response and other critical sectors of our economy. Additionally, the Louisiana Nonprofit and Small Business Assistance Program provided $10 million in grants to 436 nonprofits, faith-based groups and small businesses who provided food, employment, education and workforce development assistance to communities affected by the pandemic.
LDR also provided tax relief in the form of filing and payment extensions to Louisiana residents and businesses struggling with the economic upheaval created by this historic public health emergency.