Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday discussed the state’s coronavirus response with President Donald Trump, calling a recent commitment by the Trump administration to deliver 200,000 tests a month to Louisiana “sufficient” to start a phased reopening, likely in mid-May.
Edwards, a Democrat who won reelection last fall despite Trump coming to Louisiana to repeatedly campaign against him, continued to strike a conciliatory tone he has deployed since the election ended. He praised Trump’s aid to Louisiana, including a field hospital, Navy officers and ventilators, along with the new promise of more testing. Trump likewise said testing has allowed Edwards to be successful in his response to the virus.
“They’ve committed to resourcing Louisiana’s request for 200,000 test kits per month,” Edwards said of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “That gets us to 43 out of every 1,000 tested each month. We believe that’s sufficient for us to move forward as we’re able to reopen our economy.”
State health officials say the 200,000 tests a month will eventually fall short of what is needed, and that the number will need to be ramped up over time to allow for the continued reopening of the economy, which will occur in phases. Trump complained about media coverage of the ramp-up of testing, calling it a “media trap” and touting his administration’s increase of testing.
Louisiana has increased its testing capacity since the outbreak was first discovered in early March in the New Orleans area, which was quickly found to be a national hotspot. A slow start to testing across the U.S. hobbled the government's ability to respond to the virus.
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The meeting at the Oval Office comes as Republican state lawmakers in Louisiana complain about Edwards’ decision to extend the state’s stay-at-home order until May 15. Edwards announced that extension Monday after consulting with several state and academic health experts who concluded that the case count and other metrics weren’t improving enough to start reopening May 1, as Edwards had hoped.
One lawmaker, Republican Rep. Danny McCormick, is so upset he has organized a protest of the extension on Saturday at the governor's mansion.
Also in the meeting with Edwards and Trump were Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator; Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for Louisiana’s Office of Public Health.
Birx said every governor is “adapting” to reopening using White House recommendations as a guide. She also noted that Louisiana hasn’t “shut everything down” and some businesses have stayed open during the stay-at-home order. Edwards’ administration has in recent days encouraged businesses to review the order to see if they are allowed to be open, as many businesses are if they keep less than 10 people inside at any given time.
She also said federal officials want governors to work toward finding coronavirus cases in asymptomatic people, something Louisiana leaders have started to explore, especially in nursing homes and prisons.