John Bel Edwards

Region 5, which includes Southwest Louisiana, is one of three regions causing state health officials a bit of concern as the state continues in Phase 2 of its reopening from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We still have significant levels of COVID in the state,” said Dr. Alex Billioux, Assistant Secretary of Health for the state’s Office of Public Health, in a news conference Wednesday.

Billioux said one reason the state moved into Phase 1 much later than some of the surrounding states was due to the increasing number of cases and hospitalizations. And he is seeing the same increases in three regions presently.

In the Greater Lake Charles region there has been, over the past week, an increase in both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the virus. “Some of that is driven by increased testing,” he said. “But we see a significant increase in the number of hospitalizations, moving from about four people admitted in the previous weeks to almost 20 in this week.”

Monroe and Alexandria are the other areas of concern.

Billioux said that a portion of those hospitalized came from congregant setting, but in Region 5, 80 to 90 percent of those admitted were members of the community. He said contact tracing is exposing clusters in communities across the state, in which people live in close proximity to neighbors, or are gathering for social interaction with no consistent wearing of masks.

“We as individuals have to make changes in the way we go about our daily lives, to protect ourselves and to protect our community,” he said. “We are not seeing nearly enough people wearing masks right now.”

“We still have a public health emergency,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards. “We have an awful lot of COVID. Edwards noted that all of the active cases of COVID in the state today occurred while restrictions were in place and residents were being asked to wear masks and practice physical distancing.

He said the state has made a tremendous amount of progress in combating the virus. “It would just be very sad if we lost that momentum and actually went backwards after we fought so hard to make the improvements we’ve been able to see and to enjoy,” he said.  

One excuse the governor has heard from people not wearing a mask is the misconception that if you feel well, you must not have COVID-19 and therefore, you don’t need a mask. He called that line of thinking illogical.

“We know that 25-40 percent of the people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they are never going to show symptoms, but they have it and they can certainly spread it,” he said.

People can spread the virus for two days before observing any symptoms and it’s thought that in that 48-hour period, the carrier’s viral load may be at its heaviest.

He said waiting until you feel bad before putting a mask on, may be too late to save a friend or family members from catching the virus from you.

Edwards also referenced those who cite their “rights” as a reason for not wearing a mask. He noted that the state is not mandating anyone wear a mask because, he doesn’t think the state can enforce it.

“But … we shouldn’t have to mandate something if it’s obviously the right thing to do,” he said. “Don’t focus on whether you have a right to say ‘no,’ focus on what is the right thing to do.”