Gov. John Bel Edwards gets his second shot of Pfizer vaccine this week.
But more important, the governor will have a chance to give Louisiana’s economy a shot in the arm by lifting some of the restrictions that have crimped commerce for a full year now.
It was a year ago that the pandemic assaulted Louisiana, and when the disease was at its most mysterious and threatening, we were an early hot spot. Thanks to the unfettered celebrations of Mardi Gras, Louisiana was once the national leader in the spread of the killer coronavirus.
It would have been unimaginable then that we would still be struggling to overcome the virus, but COVID-19 pretty much vanquished Mardi Gras 2021. First, they canceled the parades. Then, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell closed down the bars and Bourbon Street. Then a historic cold snap robbed the holiday of whatever joy was left.
Reporting this weekend in our pages by Jeff Adelson and Gordon Russell underscores the idea that the pandemic posed a genuine threat requiring unprecedented response.
Even with restrictions that would have been unthinkable just a year ago, the number of deaths in Louisiana climbed by 30%. That means about 13,000 more people passed away than in a normal year.
Much of that owed to COVID-19, but about 40% of the deaths have other causes: postponed medical care or overdoses or suicide or crime.
But now Louisiana is on the downhill side of the health crisis, and it’s time to pay more attention to the economic damage.
The economy has rebounded since the severe shutdowns of the spring of 2020, but not if you work in a bar or a restaurant or a hotel or an entertainment venue.
The governor’s critics like to claim that the economic damage was caused by the shutdowns he ordered. But the restrictions mostly followed advisories from the Trump administration.
Moreover, the real damage has been from the decline in tourism, one of Louisiana’s key industries. The drivers of tourism, like conventions and cruises, are not going to bounce back any time soon. And when they do, cruise passengers and conventioneers will be Googling to find infection rates before they book a flight or a hotel or a restaurant. That’s especially true for the lucrative medical conventions that fill the hotels of New Orleans. Doctors are not going to a venue where political leaders dismiss medical advice.
But now there is reason for optimism.
About 600,000 have been vaccinated, half of them twice, and the pace should be increasing.
Where we were once averaging 2,500 cases a day, we are now down to fewer than 1,000. Hospitalizations have fallen by two-thirds from their peak, and the rate of positive tests has dipped to about 5%.
We have been patient, but now it’s time for Louisiana to start getting back to business, and back to normal, or closer to it.