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Christiaan Mader

Christiaan Mader founded The Current in 2018, reviving the brand from a short-lived culture magazine he created for Lafayette publisher INDMedia. An award-winning investigative and culture journalist, Christiaan’s work as a writer and reporter has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Offbeat, Gambit, and The Advocate.

Hang tight, Lafayette, the money is coming

The gist: Last week, Congress hurried through an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus to prop up the U.S. economy, unlocking billions in cash to patch the nation’s businesses and workers through weeks more of the social distancing guidelines freezing commerce. Everyone expected dollars would start flowing at the stroke of a pen, but the size and scope of the bill means there’s more to iron out, even as the federal government works to turn on the taps this week.

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Yes, the CARES Act is now law, but the rules aren’t really in place yet. The president enacted the stimulus when he signed it last Friday. But, for all of the bill’s provisions, the federal government still has to issue guidance on how the money flows. Some of this stuff is pretty straightforward, and the basic building blocks — who qualifies for what and for how much — are pretty well established. As disaster packages go, this one is expected to kick in pretty fast. The U.S. Treasury announced today that it expects to have the program up and running by April 3. 

In the meantime, we’ve been in something of an info vacuum. Many local banks, which will be the vanguard of the billions in cash available to small businesses, have been flooded with calls and are telling customers to gather info while they wait for federal guidance. IberiaBank recently sent out a notice to customers, offering a rundown of what it knows and prepping clients to hit the ground running once the rules are ironed out and the cash is available. 

“Information is changing by the minute and although we want to be helpful, we cannot be held responsible for any changes in the information going forward,” IberiaBank wrote to its customers, pointing to the fluidity of the bill’s finer points. In the meantime, IberiaBank suggests businesses gather the following info while queueing up.

  • Payroll tax reports for the previous 12 months 
  • Historical tax returns for three years 
  • Organizational documents 
  • A list of all entities owned by any 20% or more owner of the business 

Business groups have spun up webinars and one-pager resources. Some went up before the bill was even passed and as Capitol Hill continued to bandy the legislation around. Most of the dust has settled, but some key details are still in motion until the rules are formally promulgated and updated on the Federal Register. Beyond that, the longer term impact of the bill on Acadiana’s economy remains unclear. For instance, we’re not exactly sure how the stimulus will perform in propping up the region’s oil and gas industry besieged on two sides by an international price war and flatlined demand. 

“I’d give you $20 to answer that question,” LEDA President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux quipped when asked about that during a taping of the radio program Out to Lunch Louisiana this week. (The episode airs on KRVS Wednesday and Saturday.) Gothreaux commended the bevy of experts and business leaders pounding the pavement to pin down how the stimulus works and what it will do for the local economy. 

Around 35% of Acadiana businesses expect they’ll lay people off, Gothreaux said in the interview, relaying some returns from a regional survey of roughly 1,000 businesses. Figuring out which CARES Act provision works best for those businesses is essential to making the bill work, and the federal guidance is the last piece of the puzzle. Once that’s in place, CPAs and attorneys can point employers in the right direction. 

“Hang tight” is the best advice at this point. Stephen Waguespack of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry has urged businesses to wait on the CARES Act’s Payroll Protection Program to activate before making any big decisions; that should happen this week, kicking in billions in forgivable loans for small employers. By government standards, this is moving at warp speed. Businesses are hurting now, but making the wrong decision could be costlier.

Link: Is coronavirus growth slowing in New Orleans? Trends suggest so, but virus is surging elsewhere

Data suggests that coronavirus cases are slowing, but a trend isn’t well established yet. Researchers are reluctant to say the worst is behind New Orleans. During the breakout in Wuhan, a five-day dip in new cases preceded a massive spike.

Source: Is coronavirus growth slowing in New Orleans? Trends suggest so, but virus is surging elsewhere | Coronavirus | nola.com

Slow, limited testing makes Lafayette’s coronavirus data murky

The gist: The COVID-19 pandemic spits out dizzying amounts of data, and it’s hard to get a grip on exactly what it points to. Confirmed cases, we’re told, remain an unreliable datapoint while public health experts try to forecast a peak. We’re looking too far in the past to know what it’s coming. 

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First coronavirus deaths in Acadiana announced, more confirmations to come

The gist: Somber and prayerful, Mayor-President Josh Guillory lowered his head and reported Lafayette’s first COVID-19 death today. The victim’s age and identity were not revealed. More fatalities will be announced shortly, once families are notified, he said, setting grave expectations for the coming days. Deaths in Acadia Parish and St. Martin Parish were also confirmed today by the Louisiana Department of Health.

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“This is a sobering reminder of how serious this situation is,” Guillory said in a briefing with reporters. He looked abroad to Italy and down the road to New Orleans — where hospitals have been overwhelmed with floods of new cases — to hint at what could happen if many Lafayette residents remain personally complacent in their efforts to stymie the disease. The administration is receiving a high volume of complaints about neighbors flouting government urgings and societal pleas to stay home and take the pandemic seriously. Guillory and his spokesman, Communications Director Jamie Angelle, bemoaned their powerlessness to coerce the public into social distance. They would force people to stay apart if they could, Angelle said, but they can’t. (Sheriff Mark Garber said earlier this week that residents should call 911 to report blatant disregard for the governor’s stay-home order.)

Lafayette’s confirmed infections spiked today to 44. That’s a hefty increase over yesterday’s tally but remains an unreliable indicator of the scale of the local spread of COVID-19. Officials widely believe the number of actual cases far outstrips the number of detected infections, a pattern seen universally in areas affected by the disease. Hundreds of tests from the Cajundome screening site alone are still outstanding or unreported, and the results of those tests — sent to a variety of different commercial labs — can take more than 10 days to return. There are even more samples sent out of clinics and doctors’ offices, a handful at a time, that aren’t counted in the local tally. Lafayette’s testing operations lag roughly a week behind New Orleans, which surged to a pandemic total of well over 1,000 confirmed cases in the last few days alone. More than 20,000 tests have been completed statewide to date, the vast majority in commercial labs. 

St. Martin Parish saw three deaths today, among them a man in his early 40s. Acadia reported one. Fatalities skew higher among patients over the age of 70. Of the state’s 119 reported deaths, 69 were in that age group. 

Guillory’s administration is trying to get ahead of the economic impact. Unemployment claims are astronomical, mirroring the unprecedented millions of claims filed nationally. He announced business information resources going online next week. But locally, leaders are turning to the $2.2 trillion rescue package signed by the president today for relief. A webinar hosted by a coalition of regional economic agencies and chambers of commerce unpacked the details of the massive CARES Act, which passed out of the House of Representatives today and zipped to President Donald Trump’s desk for a signature. 

LCG has been proactive, tactically. Last week, LCG spearheaded a 311-based pre-screening process that has largely worked in streamlining the use of a still-thin supply of tests available to metro Lafayette. Guillory offered up hope that rapid tests were on the way but pointed to a long timeline, still a week or more away from arrival. On Friday, Guillory relayed discussions about transitioning seniors who have recovered from the virus out of hospital care among the administration, Lafayette’s two hospital systems and Lafayette-based LHC Group, one of the nation’s largest home-health providers. New Orleans has taken dramatic steps in the face of a near-nightmare, moving to use its convention center for hospital overflow. 

LCG has not spelled out its plan to get ahead of a possible public health crisis. Public statements since the crisis have noted ongoing conversations with state officials, hospital leadership and the nonprofit community but without many specifics; the administration has instead appealed to the fluidity of the situation in responding to questions about those plans. 

Hospital capacity has not yet been maxed here. So far, Lafayette’s hospitals have been able to manage the stream of patients, taking steps to conserve their supply of protective gear and other equipment. We don’t know how many ventilators the region has, as hospital representatives won’t disclose that information; Gov. John Bel Edwards has requested thousands from the federal government. Hospital leadership, in conjunction with the regional public health office, are preparing a regional surge plan to sort out how they could coordinate a response in the event of an avalanche of new cases. While most cases of COVID-19 aren’t fatal, the strain on hospital resources can lead to more deaths. Social distancing and other measures are efforts to ensure healthcare resources aren’t exhausted by a sudden crush of infections. 

Link: Historic coronavirus relief package to send money to residents passed by U.S. House

The House approved the sweeping measure by a voice vote, as strong majorities of both parties lined up behind the most colossal economic relief bill in the nation’s history. It will ship payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, bolster unemployment benefits, offer loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses large and small and flush billions more to states, local governments and the nation’s all but overwhelmed health care system.

Source: Historic coronavirus relief package to send money to residents passed by U.S. House | Coronavirus | nola.com

Link: To prep for overflow of cononavirus patients, beds moved in New Orleans convention center 

Louisiana is planning to put more than 1,100 beds in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to ease the strain on New Orleans area hospitals.

The move, which will see 120 beds in the convention center by the end of this weekend, is the linchpin of a plan to boost the number of hospital beds, health care workers, ventilators, protective equipment and other resources available in Louisiana.

Source: To prep for overflow of conroavirus patients, beds moved in New Orleans convention center | Coronavirus | nola.com

Pressed into unprecedented duty, schools wrestle with how to feed Louisiana’s children during a pandemic

At least 32 Louisiana school districts will no longer hand out grab-and-go food boxes to school-age children from school distribution sites, a large chunk of the state’s school-based food supply chain.

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Coronavirus lockdowns and high anxiety: Has teletherapy’s moment arrived?

State regs and cultural aversion warded some counselors away from teletherapy. COVID-19 is changing that.

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Link: This is how coronavirus testing works at Louisiana’s state-run lab 

The Louisiana lab is able to test 200 to 250 samples per day and can turn around results in about three days. So far, about 40 percent of the samples tested at the facility have come back positive for COVID-19, according to the Office of Public Health. That’s much higher than the overall positive rate for tests in the state, which stood at 16% as of Tuesday.

Source: This is how coronavirus testing works at Louisiana’s state-run lab | Coronavirus | nola.com

Link: Coronavirus cases grew faster in Louisiana than anywhere else in the world: UL study 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Louisiana grew faster in the first 14 days than anywhere else in the world, data shows. That includes Spain and Italy, which have produced nightmarish scenes as hospitals have become overrun.

Source: Coronavirus cases grew faster in Louisiana than anywhere else in the world: UL study | Coronavirus | theadvocate.com