Community leaders in Lafayette announced an initiative Monday to encourage social distancing and wearing masks as a way of keep the community safe from COVID-19.

The Acadiana Safe Movement involves personal commitments — to the point of taking a pledge — to practice common sense and protect others.

The six-part pledge includes commitments to wear a mask, wash hands frequently, practice social distancing, not touch one’s face, stay home when sick and help protect the community. About 50 people gathered at the University of Louisiana Student Union in Lafayette for announcement of the initiative; UL Lafayette Joseph Savoie mirthfully called it the “largest gathering we’ve had on our campus in quite some time.” Seats were 6 feet apart, on the stage and in the audience.

But speakers representing community partners were dead serious in their statements of commitment.

Savoie said UL Lafayette has “22,000 commitments” — student enrollment, faculty and staff — to practice safe behavior.

“Tomorrow means social distancing today,” he said.

Chris Reis, the former New Orleans Saints safety who recovered a crucial onside kick during Super Bowl XLIV, said he knows a thing or two about recovery. Now a pastor at Our Savior’s Church, Reis said important plays like his in the Super Bowl don’t happen by accident — they involve practice and preparation.

Exercising good judgement in safeguarding the community against COVID-19, he said, is much the same.

Richard Zuschlag, founder of Acadian Ambulance, said the community has to go forward, not backwards, in meeting the challenges of the continuing pandemic. He said patients needing surgeries are being transported of late to hospitals as far as 100 miles away because of the shortage of facilities, because of COVID-19 care, here.

“That’s happening all over the state,” he said, urging people to take the pledge and protect the community.

Troy Wayman, president and CEO of One Acadiana, said Acadiana has met steep challenges before, including a recent freefall in energy prices. People in this oil-rich area can’t affect the price of oil, he said, but their diligence in offsetting COVID-19 can make a profound impact.

Acadiana has shown creativity and resourcefulness in meeting other challenges, he said.

“There is an innovative, creative culture in this region,” he said. “We can do this without the governor telling us to do it.”

Wayman said some 500 signs have been printed to encourage other to take the pledge.

Most Rev. Douglas Deshotel, bishop of Lafayette, said the Acadiana Safe effort represents an underlying moral obligation “to be concerned about the health of our neighbor.”

Standing outside the meeting, Savoie said UL Lafayette officials have planned as much as they can for opening the fall semester. He said there are three main scenarios, each with variations, to help classes open in a way that will give student a meaningful university experience.


Email Ken Stickney at kstickney@theadvocate.com.