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Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, center, addresses questions regarding tourism including the New Orleans Jazz Festival, during a press conference updating the coronavirus threat in Louisiana, Wednesday, March 11, 2020 at the Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, and Dr. Jimmy Guidry, M.D., right, State Health Officer of Louisiana and La. Dept. of Health's Medical Director, are behind Nungesser.

If most Louisianans were honest, they’d admit through the years they were beginning to lose respect for the potential fury a hurricane could bring. The idea of evacuating seemed a bit much. Then came Katrina. The storm renewed our respect for the carnage a powerful hurricane can bring. If some of the dire warnings about the potential of the coronavirus are justified, we’ll never look at infectious diseases the same again. Let’s hope the prognostications of the coronavirus are exaggerated.

Our leaders somehow have to negotiate the tension between overhyping the risk of the coronavirus, thereby hurting their credibility in dealing with future infectious diseases, and underselling its dangers. If people say, oh yeah, we’ve heard this before, and don’t take precautions to stop the spread of the coronavirus, we’ll all pay a heavy price.

It seems wise to err on the side of caution even if it means a temporary hit to our economy and way of life. If the economy is as strong and vibrant as it appeared before the coronavirus hit us, we should recover. But ignoring the warnings of the potential of the coronavirus could lead to the deaths of people who might have otherwise survived.

We’re being told how quickly the virus spreads largely depends on how seriously we take it. It will spread and people will die, but to what degree depends on us. How many of us are willing to avoid larger crowds and stay home rather than go out as we usually do. It takes sacrifice, but lives are at risk, especially the elderly.

What we should resist is the temptation to use the virus as an opportunity to demonize our political opponents. These times call for a singular focus on the real enemy, the coronavirus.

Former Republican state Sen. Conrad Appel, a frequent and harsh critic of Gov. John Bel Edwards, tweeted this on Wednesday, “Though I strongly disagree with Governor Edwards on policy, I equally strongly appreciate his approach to handling the coronavirus challenge of our state of what I’ve seen he is doing a great job.”

Some in the conservative media criticized New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell for canceling the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser also called out Cantrell for the parade cancellation saying it sends the wrong message.

“I think we need to safely carry-on. We’ve got millions and millions of dollars in conventions that are right now sitting back thinking about whether to cancel those events coming to New Orleans,” said Nungesser.

Now is not the time to prioritize money over health concerns. Cantrell canceling the parade seems reasonable in light of how quickly the coronavirus has spread in recent days.

John Bel Edwards: Be 'vigilant' but don't panic as Louisiana gets first coronavirus case

I’m not arguing for giving our local leaders a complete pass in how they handle the virus. But media members and leaders should be extra cautious their criticism is not politically motivated.

It’s important the public has confidence in our leaders during this time, both on the local, state, and federal level. It’s something the national media, most of whom suffer from a severe case of Trump Derangement Syndrome, should keep in mind. They must resist the urge to unjustifiably slam the president simply because they hate him. Criticize Trump’s handling of the coronavirus if warranted, but only if warranted.

The media has a record of overselling and exaggerating potential doom and gloom scenarios. This is especially true for broadcast media and cable news outlets. How many TV weather forecasters through the years overhyped hurricanes that ended up doing nothing more than knocking down a few trees.

Remember the turn of the century we were told Y2k would cause planes to fall from the sky. Don’t eat meat or you’ll get Mad Cow Disease. And then there was the Zika, and Ebola virus, the SARS, Avian, Swine and MERS flu. Just like many hurricanes before Katrina, none of these lived up to their hype.

Much of the pain and suffering from Katrina could have been avoided if people had heeded the warnings and evacuated. If the coronavirus ends up as the Katrina of infectious diseases, we’d all be wise to listen to our leaders and take necessary precautions.

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