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As Dr. Alex Billioux, asst. state public health officer, answers questions, left, Gov. John Bel Edwards, right, watches during a press conference updating the status of the state in regard to COVID-19 Tuesday July 21, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. The state will remain in Phase 2 for at least another two weeks. (Photo by Bill Feig, The Advocate)

Turning a corner is usually a metaphor for good news, an expression of optimism. Except that Alex Billioux, the state assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health, didn’t use the term that way when he joined Gov. John Bel Edwards this week to announce the latest emergency measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have clearly turned a corner in the wrong direction,” Dr. Billioux said while explaining that hospitalizations are once more as high as they were in early May.

The blunt assessment was not unexpected. Neither was Edwards’ extension of current Phase 2 restrictions, which include his recent mask mandate and the ban on on-site service at bars, through Aug. 7.

The data that the administration has been sharing on a near-daily basis offer ample evidence that this is the cautious, correct course. The total number of diagnosed cases this week reached 100,000, making Louisiana the 12th state to pass that benchmark. Deaths in the state have now topped 3,500. 

In fact, for those who insist the Democratic governor is overplaying his hand and reaching beyond his authority — including an irresponsible subset of state Republican lawmakers joined of late by Attorney General Jeff Landry, himself recently diagnosed with the virus — the news could have been worse. Edwards didn’t go as far as the White House coronavirus task force’s recent recommendations to close gyms, further reduce indoor restaurant capacity and restrict gatherings to 10 people rather than the current 50.

Louisiana and Phase 2: Why the state has 'a long way to go' in its coronavirus fight

Still, we understand the immense frustration of businesses that can’t fully operate and employees who’ve lost jobs, and believe Edwards is striking the most sensible balance. In the meantime, we urge Congress to act quickly on a new relief package to help mitigate their losses and survive until the threat diminishes.

The governor is right that normal activity cannot fully rebound until the public health situation is more under control. That’s also the takeaway from difficult discussions happening all over the state about how to reopen schools, and the reason that some districts are coming up with alternatives despite Vice President Mike Pence’s recent insistence during a Baton Rouge visit that “we don’t want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don’t reopen their schools.” Reacting to the numbers and the concerns of parents and staff, both Orleans and East Baton Rouge announced this week that learning would happen remotely through at least Labor Day.

Nobody wants, that, just like nobody wants continued limits on economic activity. But Edwards is right that the path back requires all residents to take personal responsibility, wear masks and maintain social distance. We join the governor in urging everyone in the state to do their part, so that hopefully someday soon we’ll be talking about turning the corner toward better days.