Gov. Edwards: Concerns about penalities for those who refuse to participate in COVID-19 contact tracing ‘unfounded’

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday that concerns about people being penalized for refusing to participate in contact tracing are “unfounded” in his latest briefing on Louisiana’s response to the coronavirus.

“There’s no penalty for anyone, no mandate that anybody participate,” Edwards said, although he said he hopes that those who are contacted by a tracer will provide information in order to help those who may be at risk for the coronavirus know that they need to take measures to help prevent the further spread of the illness.

“So, if you get a call and you’re told that you tested positive and we want to find out who your contacts are, obviously, we hope that you would be a good enough neighbor that you would provide information so that we could then call those folks that meet the definition of a close contact so that we can contact them and let ’em know so that they can look out for themselves and families and their communities and so forth, monitor their symptoms more closely, and potentially, that they would agree to isolate themselves for some period of time until they could be confident that they don’t have COVID-19.

RELATED: Louisiana GOP lawmakers want virus tracking to be voluntary

Again, this is one of those efforts where I would encourage people to think not along the lines of what you have a right to do or right not to do, but think about what is the right thing to do.”

Edwards has said the state has set a goal to do 200,000 tests for COVID-19 in the month of May.

“Today, we’ve gotten to 143,577 so far in May, so we’re on our way to meeting that goal. We are about 56,000 tests short of the goal with nine days to go.”

He also said that the state has now hired 450 Louisianians through two contractors to conduct contact tracing, noting that the target set last week was 250.

“Obviously, this is a very important part of our effort to keep cases down as we reopen our economy.”

Meanwhile, the Louisiana National Guard, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and the Office of Public Health have been working to stand up mobile testing sites across Louisiana. Regions 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 already have sites. Regions 4 and 9 will start Tuesday, and 6 and 7 in Northwest Louisiana will start next week.

Edwards held the briefing Friday afternoon as the state wraps up its first full week under his Phase 1 Resilient Louisiana order allowing more businesses to reopen. The current order is set to remain in effect through June 5. In his last briefing on Monday, Edwards said data will be analyzed over the coming 14 days to determine whether the state is ready to move into the next phase of reopening and a further easing of restrictions.

RELATED: Coronavirus in Louisiana: Cases close in on 37K, 39 new deaths reported

As of Friday, the state was reporting 36,925 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, adding another 421 cases since Thursday. Pointing to a 6.6-percent positivity rate from the latest round of reported tests, the governor noted the national goal is to get the positivity rate below 10 percent, “and so we’re obviously trending in the right direction there, as well.”

Still, the governor warned that more cases will be reported as the state continues to expanding comprehensive testing, particularly in congregant settings and workplaces.

“The good news is that most of these cases we discover are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, but they’re still very challenging because the individuals are nevertheless contagious. And the CDC reported, I think it was yesterday, their current estimate of the percentage of cases that are asymptomatic is 35%.”

The governor Friday also offered an update for the first time about the distribution of remdesivir, the experimental drug allowed for emergency use by the FDA earlier this month after studies showed it shortened the time to recovery by 31%, or about four days on average, for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Edwards said the drug maker, Gilead Sciences, has been supplying the drug around the country and that Louisiana has received more than 8,300 vials of it in three allocations since May 14. The first two allocations, totaling 4,566 vials, have already been distributed to 44 hospitals around the state. The third, consisting of 3,838 vials, will go to 47 hospitals around the state.

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Edwards said hospitals who receive the drug are selected based on their COVID-19 caseload, and that any hospital with five or more coronavirus patients automatically get allocations. Those with fewer than five patients can also request the drug. He also noted that there are two different treatment regimens for the use of remdesivir, one five-day, and the other ten-day. On average, it takes about seven vials to treat one individual.

Heading into the holiday weekend, Edwards encouraged citizens to take the time to pause, reflect, and pray for all the men and women in uniform who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” adding that this Memorial Day will be different because of the restrictions that remain in place and urging everyone to continue taking social distancing precautions.

In particular, he emphasized the importance of wearing masks, citing recent information released by the CDC saying there is a much greater chance of contracting the virus through airborne means.

“There is still some risk of spread through contaminated surfaces, but that’s not the primary threat for the spread of the virus. That’s why the masks are so important because the masks cut down on the distance the virus can travel.”

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