BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The number of coronavirus cases in Louisiana tops 100, health officials said Monday, as more state agencies shut down face-to-face business and legislative leaders agreed to temporarily suspend their lawmaking session.
The latest figures released from the Louisiana Department of Health showed 114 positive tests for the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, with 79 of those in Orleans Parish. Two people have died in Louisiana.
In hopes of slowing the spread of the virus across Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards closed K-12 schools and banned public gatherings over 250 people until April 13. The Democratic governor also delayed the state's presidential primaries.
The Louisiana Legislature initially planned to continue its work in the second week of a three-month legislative session, with committee hearings held Monday morning — prompting an outcry about the public health risk of hundreds of people gathered in the state capitol building. By mid-morning, the legislative leadership decided to temporarily recess due to coronavirus concerns, said Lionel Rainey, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder.
A list of advocacy groups urged the delay, while some lawmakers refused to attend. New Orleans state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, the head of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said she was staying home, posting messages on Twitter that described it as irresponsible for the session to continue.
“Tired of explaining to people who should be paying attention and looking out for the masses why we shouldn't be convening on non urgent matters,” Peterson tweeted. “Just sad they won't follow the recommendations of the health care professionals.”
Visitors to the Louisiana Capitol had to pass a temperature test to gain access to the building, and seating in hearing rooms was limited, with individual chairs blocked off to ensure people were sitting apart from each other.
For most people, coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.
In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell chastised people who were ignoring the ban on large public gatherings. Meanwhile, state offices that handle food stamps, welfare payments and other social services were closed to the public in the Orleans Parish area, and some motor vehicle offices closed as a precaution. State agencies are encouraging people to do their business by phone or online.
Because of the cluster of cases in New Orleans, at least one Baton Rouge hospital, Our Lady of the Lake, announced that no one who has visited New Orleans or neighboring Jefferson Parish in the last 14 days will be allowed to enter the facility.
On Sunday, New Orleans instituted new rules requiring that full service restaurants close at 9 p.m. and increase space between tables when open. Fast-casual or quick-service restaurants are not allowed to serve food inside but are allowed to have drive-thru services. Bars and nightclubs in the tourism-dependent economy will close at midnight but have to keep the number of patrons at half whatever their posted occupancy is. And tour groups, which are frequently seen in large buses or bike tours around the city, must be limited to seven people.
Casinos around the state started to announce planned closures.