A TALE OF TWO CITIES & TWO LEADERS’ EFFORT TO STOP THE CORONAVIRUS
By C.C. Campbell-Rock
Cynthia Lee Sheng, a Republican is the first female parish president in Jefferson Parish history and LaToya Cantrell, a Democrat, is the first female mayor of New Orleans. A look at the state’s coronavirus statistics indicates that, even though the two parishes have a high number of coronavirus cases the leaders have slowed the spread of the infection and both leaders have handled the coronavirus pandemic extremely well.
USAFacts.org reported that “Coronavirus cases continue to grow in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. 18,624 (+85 reported Oct 25) 584 (+1 reported Oct 25) and in Orleans Parish, 13,427 (+59 reported Oct 25) and 592 (+0 reported Oct 25).
BOTH PARISHES POSITIVITY RATE SHOW RESTRICTIONS ARE WORKING AND VIRAL SPREAD IS SLOWING
However, the parishes’ positivity rates show that both parishes are containing the virus and holding the death count to a minimum.
Jefferson Parish’s positivity rate fell from 3.5% to 3.3% and Orleans Parish rate showed a slight increase from 1.10% to 1.50% (10/6-10/14), according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
The percent positive is exactly what it sounds like: the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that are actually positive, or: (positive tests)/(total tests) x 100%. The percent positive (sometimes called the “percent positive rate” or “positivity rate”).
The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University is tracking the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.. They say “A high percent positive means that more testing should probably be done. And it suggests that it is not a good time to relax restrictions aimed at reducing coronavirus transmission. Because a high percentage of positive tests suggests high coronavirus infection rates (due to high transmission in the community).A high percent positive can indicate it may be a good time to add restrictions to slow the spread of disease.”
The higher the percent positive is, the more concerning it is.
“As a rule of thumb, however, one threshold for the percent positive being “too high” is 5%. For example, the World Health Organization recommended in May that the percent positive remain below 5% for at least two weeks before governments consider reopening,” according to public health experts.
Both parishes have low positivity rates and are now proceeding with reopening their respective parishes in phases.
President Cynthia Lee Sheng Leads by Example
A big clapback against restrictions has come from entertainment and tourism-related businesses, especially bars. Under Governor Edwards’ Phase Three order, bars can open if the parish has a positivity rate of 5% or lower for two straight weeks.
In fact, Jefferson Parish officials had lobbied Governor Edwards in September 2020 to move the state into Phase 3. They cited restarting the area’s economy as the primary factor for moving into Phase 3.
As soon as Phase 3 went into effect in late September, bars in Jefferson Parish were allowed to open for on-premise consumption.
Politics Matter Too
But the Governor’s reopening plan is at the center of Louisiana’s House Republicans’ effort to wrest emergency declaration powers from the governor. They passed a legislative petition ordering Governor Edwards to end all pandemic public health restrictions and end the emergency declaration.
“You can take away the declaration I guess, but you are not going to take away the emergency,” said Edwards. “You only take away the tools necessary to deal with that emergency and try to manage it and minimize the people who get sick and the people who go to the hospital and the people who die.”
“Edwards said the petition’s 65 GOP signees have their heads buried in the sand and refuse to acknowledge that the pandemic is still raging on. He says over 5,600 people have died from COVID since March. That’s more people than live in my hometown! How many more does it require to get people’s attention and take this seriously,” Edwards said, according to news reports.
Republicans vs Democrats?
As is the case across this divided nation, Republicans leaders are following Donald Trump Sr.. They are ignoring health experts advice to contain the virus. His supporters are defying mask and social distance mandates, all in the name of restoring the economy.
Louisiana’s democratic Governor says the emergency restrictions are still in effect. But the state’s Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry says the House Republicans’ law ended the governor’s plan. Edwards argues the law is unconstitutional. He says it allows one chamber of the legislature to act on the entire legislature’s behalf. The governor is ignoring the petition.
Governor Edwards is suing the legislature. Baton Rouge District Judge William Morvant will decide whether Louisianans have to continue following the mitigation measures Gov. Edwards implemented through an executive order.
NEW ORLEANS MAYOR STANDING FIRM ON RESTRICTIONS
Litigation aside, New Orleans’ restrictions are based on a proclamation from Mayor Cantrell. Her restrictions are not dependent on the statewide emergency order signed by Gov. Edwards.
“New Orleans will not follow the rest of Louisiana in easing up on public gathering restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell vowed back in September 2020.
Unlike Edwards’ solitary Phase 3 plan, Mayor Cantrell’s Phase 3 reopening contains three parts. Phases 3.1, 3.2, and Phase 3.3. Phase 3.3 is projected to start on October 31, if the city’s positivity rate remains low.
Orleans Parish is Different
In New Orleans bars were allowed to reopen on October 3 with “to go” service only. In the wake of a slight uptick in cases, Mayor Cantrell pushed back table service in bars by a week. Previously she planned inside consumption for Halloween.
“We learned a painful lesson when too many restrictions were relaxed in Phase 2,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the city’s top health official.
When the country was experiencing a second wave of coronavirus infection in July 2020, and cases were rising in Orleans Parish, Mayor Cantrell announced new Phase 2 restrictions. Back then, New Orleans had 8,287 cases and 536 deaths. Since then, Cantrell has moved deliberately and at a steady pace to contain the virus, while relaxing restrictions safely.
Mayor Cantrell is concerned
“Our business community collectively has taken big hits,” Cantrell said recently. “And I do recognize, and we understand the hardship. While at the same time focusing on our public health. And doing the best we can to open our economy back up. It’s very important.”
Jefferson Parish’s coronavirus restrictions are based on Governor Edwards’ phased-in reopening plan.
“Please wear a mask when you are in public. Stay home if you feel sick or have been directly exposed to someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19 and wash your hands frequently,” Sheng said recently, after an official announced that the parish president was self-quarantining after she possibly came in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Masks Still Required
Mandatory masks and social distancing measures remain in place in both parishes.
Both leaders have had to deal with restriction violators, and both have $500 fines for violations. However, Mayor Cantrell has shut down businesses that violate mandates, while Parish President Sheng has not. “Either pay a $500 fine or pick up trash,” Cantrell warned those who refuse to wear masks. “I don’t want a $500 fine, I want people to wear masks,” Sheng said.
Both leaders are providing free coronavirus tests and free flu shots to anyone who wants them, and they are both supporting food distribution programs.
Sheng is also overseeing a novel program to combat the virus. For example, Jefferson Transit (JeT) is now using UVC Light and NanoSeptic Technology to kill COVID-19, as well as other viruses, on all buses in its fleet.
There’s good reason to remain vigilant and maintain preventative measures. Both Cantrell and Sheng recognize that spikes in some states nationwide, mainly those with Republican governors who have shunned mandatory mask wearing and social distancing and have no COVID restrictions, are proving that states that follow the advice of infectious disease experts can contain the virus, while states that don’t, wont.