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Gov. John Bel Edwards masks up after yielding the lectern to DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, left, to speak on the situation with southwest Louisiana roadways being used for Hurricane Laura evacuation, just before Edwards spoke again to extend COVID-19 Phase 2 reopening for at least another two weeks, at a press conference Wednesday at the Louisiana State Police Training Academy.

For Louisiana, social distancing will now be an even-more long-distance event — past Labor Day.

Gov. John Bel Edwards extended his orders restricting gatherings to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

That his announcement came during the preparation for Hurricane Laura underlined the difficulties with fighting a disease that is spread so easily. Extensive testing is vital, but Laura had other plans for much of Louisiana: “We’re basically going to be blind for this week,” Edwards said, referring to the lack of testing.

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That our state has faced two such difficult crises this year should also underline the fact that Louisiana’s people have risen to the occasions. Evacuation orders were largely followed and only a few deaths were reported despite the extensive property damage visited on the state by Laura, a historically powerful storm.

But the less-dramatic threat of coronavirus infections has also been addressed by the public. Louisiana has made significant strides in combating a new coronavirus surge this summer.

That doesn’t mean masks and hand-washing and social distancing can go away, however. In fact, the disruptions caused by Laura evacuations might mean more infections, and it takes days for symptoms to show up, if they do.

Combined with reopening of schools, including party-hearty college campuses, the risks of yet another round of infections is considerable. That means more masking in public places, bar closures and limits on social gatherings.

Edwards said his decision to extend the Phase 2 rules stays in line with the guidance he's received from the White House coronavirus task force. Dr. Deborah Birx of the task force has continued to express concern about Louisiana’s disease rates, the governor said.

Is there good news? That cases are trending down some is, of course, encouraging. But there is no question that extending Phase 2 is tough medicine.

Is it legal? Federal and state courts have said so, although bar owners are seeking to appeal district court rulings. But the U.S. Supreme Court this year backed limits in California on church gatherings when that was challenged on constitutional grounds.

We cannot know how many small businesses will be tipped over the edge into permanent closure, but that is clearly a potential consequence of the governor’s order.

With on-again, off-again programs from Washington, the nation’s leadership is not providing the hope for financial aid — whether it is for the thousands of laid-off workers, or small businesses on the brink.

Louisiana is not alone in this crisis but it remains a hot spot. That means our people continue to have to follow the social distancing rules, however long-distance that process may be.

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