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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.

Lafayette is bracing for the budget impact of coronavirus

The gist: Retail sales are plummeting nationwide, while plunged oil prices remain bottomed out. That means local governments face the possibility of massive deficits. Citing “unprecedented fiscal challenges,” Lafayette’s mayor-president is setting expectations for deep cuts. 

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When it comes to health disparities, Lafayette’s coronavirus data still has big gaps

The gist: We know that coronavirus is having a disproportionately deadly impact on black communities across America and in Louisiana. Local demographic data is somewhat hard to come by, however. In Louisiana, 60% of the more than 1,000 deaths reported to date were African American, spurring the governor to launch a statewide task force in response. But at the regional and local level, it’s hard to get a handle on how that trend is playing out.

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Freelancers of Lafayette: Don’t fear coronavirus loans

For a lot of freelancers, applying for a loan is brand new — and scary — territory. Here’s a high level guide to how it works.

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Link: Acadiana coronavirus cases spike; ICU occupancy highest in state 

As of Wednesday, there were 713 cases reported in Acadiana, which the state health department defines as the parishes of Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, Evangeline, Acadia, Vermilion and Iberia. That marked 42% increase over five days, slightly outpacing the statewide increase.

Source: Acadiana coronavirus cases spike; ICU occupancy highest in state | News | theadvocate.com

Link: Here’s why these 13 Louisiana parishes have some of the highest coronavirus death rates in the U.S. 

Of the 13 parishes in Louisiana with the highest death rates, 10 lie along the industrial corridor that lines the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge down to the river’s mouth. And notably, every parish along the river from Plaquemines to West Baton Rouge is among the top 50 in coronavirus deaths per capita – save for East Baton Rouge, which is ranked No. 52.

Source: Here’s why these 13 Louisiana parishes have some of the highest coronavirus death rates in the U.S. | Coronavirus | nola.com

Link: Big shift in model of coronavirus in Louisiana raises questions about ‘peak’ of outbreak

A closely watched model of the coronavirus pandemic showed a dramatic shift for the better in Louisiana overnight, but changes to the methodology used by researchers suggest that it might be too early to celebrate.

Source: Big shift in model of coronavirus in Louisiana raises questions about ‘peak’ of outbreak | Coronavirus | nola.com

Link: Sheraton New Orleans leased by state as another coronavirus spillover medical facility 

The hotel, which is the city’s fourth-largest with 1,110 rooms, joins the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in providing large-scale space that can be converted into overflow facilities for patients who are infected with the pathogen but no longer need hospital care.

The first 1,000 beds at the Convention Center are expected to be ready Monday, and Gov. John Bel Edwards has mandated that an additional 1,000 beds be installed there.

Source: Sheraton New Orleans leased by state as another coronavirus spillover medical facility | Coronavirus | nola.com

Lafayette charities fear wave of need as thousands apply for unemployment related to coronavirus

The gist: Charities that help Acadiana’s financially vulnerable see mounting unemployment claims and worry about a crash of housing instability coming. Programs typically strained in normal circumstances are poised to be slammed from two sides, as job losses surge people into unprecedented vulnerability and contributions dry up. 

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Share the Light has already run out of money for the month. Operated by Catholic Charities of Acadiana, the program takes small donations from LUS customers and distributes them to people in dire financial circumstances. It’s not atypical for Share the Light to exhaust its monthly giving, Catholic Charities’ Kim Boudreaux said in an interview early Friday, but she warned the need will skyrocket as the bottom drops out for many families for the first time. Last year, Share the Light generated about $37,000 for Lafayette residents in need. 

“If we had a million dollars it wouldn’t be enough in this situation,” Boudreaux said. Catholic Charities runs a variety of similar programs, including Slemco’s Lights On, and distributes alms from the Diocese of Lafayette. Those and other programs administered by Catholic Charities still have money available for distribution with some flexibility. But she expects the need to balloon as unemployment rises. 

Acadiana’s weekly unemployment claims topped 7,000 as coronavirus hit in mid-March. Earlier weekly claims hovered just about 1,000 at the beginning of March, according to data shared at a press briefing by LCG Communications Director Jamie Angelle. More than 6.6 million have been filed nationwide, doubling last week’s claims, the highest ever on record. 

“We focus on households that have an unexpected loss or expense in their household,” Boudreaux says. “We’ve always made our decisions based on somebody’s circumstances.” Now, it appears many, many more people will fit those criteria, she says. 

Charities have already had to adapt to the unique challenges of a pandemic. Catholic Charities has lost availability in its homeless shelters to make space for social distancing. Food banks have had to devise strategies to store and distribute food safely without spreading the virus. Schools were pressed into duty as crisis-food centers until volunteers and workers became worried about their own health.

The signal from the nonprofit sector is that they can’t handle what’s next without major help, and that likely includes government. Catholic Charities normally selects those it helps based on acute and sudden need, given there are already too many people in or near poverty that can be helped by the program. Boudreaux notes that some federal funding coming in from the CARES Act, the $2 trillion relief package signed into law last week, could funnel through state and local channels to add stability to Acadiana’s housing needs. LCG received $850,000 in block grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the CARES Act. That may be able to be used for rental assistance, according to Leigh Rachal of the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, but it’s unclear whether it could extend to other bills like utilities. 

“There’s no concern,” Mayor-President Josh Guillory snapped when asked how his office was preparing for the wave of instability at a press briefing Friday. Asked if he could clarify, he said “no.” 

Local government has a lot to lose if utility bills start to fall through. LUS paid roughly $23 million in in-lieu-tax payments in 2019, consistent with historical trends, to support the city of Lafayette’s general fund. That a chunk of revenues could vanish is an area of real concern for many smaller municipalities. It’s what complicated Abbeville’s brief decision to continue disconnects altogether. That city relies heavily on its utility revenues  But the scale of LUS leaves it able to absorb losses to a point. In the meantime, LUS has waived disconnection and late fees for 60 days and has not seen an appreciable decline in revenue. 

Boudreaux is concerned Share the Light could see substantial declines in its donations. Normally, people elect to add a dollar or more to their bills to pay into the program. It’s not uncommon for Catholic Charities to help its clientele pay the minimum on utility bills as high as $1,200, as unpaid balances snowball, month after month. LUS does work out payment plans on an individual basis, Boudreaux says, which helps. But poverty may reach people who have never experienced such hardship before. LCG has urged customers to pay what they can to avoid a lump bill when compassion measures go away, and in the meantime directed those in need to take advantage of Share the Light, an announcement broadcast on Tuesday. Calls for help had fallen silent at Catholic Charities until LCG directed those in need to take advantage of the program. The announcement took Catholic Charities off guard. 

“Our phone started ringing until late last night,” Boudreaux says, adding that it hasn’t stopped.

Link: Banks urge patience as PPP rollout gets off to a rocky start

The ambitious $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program passed by Congress one week ago to help small businesses weather the coronavirus crisis rolls out this morning amid confusion and mixed signals.

Updated federal guidelines for the program were not issued until late Thursday night in a 31-page “interim final rules” document, just hours before the PPP was supposed to begin accepting applications, and most banks are still not ready.

Source: Banks urge patience as PPP rollout gets off to a rocky start

Link: Ochsner Health secures 5-minute coronavirus test that could go to ERs, labor units 

Ochsner Health System officials will soon begin using rapid COVID-19 tests in their emergency rooms and other areas to screen out patients who have the disease, they said Thursday.

The tests by Abbott Laboratories were cleared by the Food and Drug Administration last week and were shipped to hospitals beginning Wednesday. Ochsner has received some of the tests kits as of Thursday. The 5-minute test joins another 45-minute test in Ochsner’s stockpile and the same-day tests it has had for weeks.

Source: Ochsner Health secures 5-minute coronavirus test that could go to ERs, labor units | Coronavirus | nola.com