BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As Louisiana's college students return to campus, Gov. John Bel Edwards is urging them to take precautions against the coronavirus outbreak, worried the schools could undercut recent progress the state has made in battling the pandemic.
Louisiana continued Wednesday to have one of the nation’s highest per capita virus infection rates in recent weeks. But the average number of new confirmed cases per day has fallen by more than 50% over the past 14 days, to about 1,000. The number of people hospitalized with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus also has significantly declined.
But elementary and secondary schools started opening this month, and move-in days began last week at Louisiana's universities, raising fears of a new spike in COVID-19 just as the state is making strides to contain its second surge of the disease.
“This is going to be a lot more movement, a lot more activity and people coming into contact with one another than we have seen on our campuses since March ... so we have to be especially vigilant right now,” Edwards said Tuesday.
Louisiana's universities are planning to hold classes through a mix of in-person and online learning, with a wary eye toward the experiences in other states.
Already universities such as Notre Dame, Michigan State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have moved to online classes as colleges struggle to contain coronavirus spread from students gathering in large groups without precautions.
Edwards specifically reached out to Louisiana's college students, asking them to wear masks as the state requires, maintain social distancing and to “think twice about going” to a party or event if it will be packed with people not following those rules.
“I know that you've missed your friends. I know that life has not what you've wanted it to be for a while — and that's certainly true for the rest of us as well — and you're eager to see your friends and celebrate a new semester,” the Democratic governor said. “However, I'm asking you to be very careful in how, when, where you choose to celebrate.”
Twenty-one college campuses around Louisiana will be open by the end of the week, Edwards said. The state will be closely monitoring any outbreaks of the virus that appear, he said, both at universities and at K-12 schools.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.
Nearly 140,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed by Louisiana’s health department, though the true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
“COVID-19 is still present. It’s all over the state of Louisiana. We have significant community spread,” Edwards said. “We can’t be complacent.”
The state’s death toll from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus grew to 4,468 Wednesday, an increase of 37 from a day earlier.
The health department says more than 118,000 people in Louisiana have recovered.