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.

Link: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards likely to lift stay-at-home order May 1

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he will likely lift some restrictions currently mandated by his stay-at-home order when it expires April 30, but warned life still won’t be as it was before the coronavirus crisis.

“I don’t bet very often, but if you made me bet $1 I would bet on May 1 we’d be under a different order than we’re under now,” Edwards said. “But that really does depend on what happens over the next week or so because we have to make sure we have those 14 days where our trajectory is where we want it as it relates to cases and as it relates to hospital capacity and then an overall downward trajectory of (symptoms).

Source: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards likely to lift stay-at-home order May 1

African Americans make up a disproportionate share of Acadiana’s coronavirus deaths

The gist: While not matching the severe racial disparity seen at the state level, Acadiana’s black community is suffering a disproportionately high number of coronavirus fatalities. African Americans account for 39% of coronavirus deaths in the state’s seven-parish health region but only 27% of the population.

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Seventy-six people have died in the Acadiana region as of Tuesday 43 were white, 30 were black, three are categorized “unknown.” That breakdown tracks a trend of disparity seen nationwide. Across the country, public health officials are finding that coronavirus is wreaking havoc on black communities, who tend to have high rates of chronic disease and relatively limited access to healthcare. 

Acadiana’s disparity is smaller than the state’s. To date, roughly 56% of Louisiana’s 1,405 deaths are African American, a rate 1.75 times the black community’s share of the state population. Deaths among African Americans in Acadiana are 1.4 times the population share. 

We don’t yet know how this breaks down, parish-by-parish. The Louisiana Department of Health has released parish-level demographic data only for parishes that have reported 25 deaths or more. In Region 4, the LDH region that maps onto Acadiana, St. Landry Parish is the only one that meets that threshold, with 26 deaths reported. Of those, 20 were white and four were black, inverting the disparity in a parish with the highest fatality rate, 19%, among its confirmed cases. (By contrast, Lafayette Parish’s case fatality rate is approximately 4%.) St. Landry has the largest black community in the region as a percent of its parish population — 41%.

*Editor’s Note: After this story was first published, LDH confirmed that 25 of the 28 deaths reported in St. Landry Parish as of April 22 were nursing home residents.

Lafayette is in the early stages of launching a taskforce to examine health disparities. Announced earlier this week, the taskforce will be headed up by Carlos Harvin, LCG’s chief of minority affairs.

Lafayette says ‘shop safe’ but stay home — coronavirus is still a threat

The gist: New clarity to state guidelines that had shuttered hundreds of Lafayette businesses for weeks has already sprung open area shops, in effect beginning the first local thaw on commerce. But officials remain stark in their warnings to heed state orders to stay home and stay safe, sending a mixed message about the state of urgency.

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“We’re still seeing very sick individuals. We’re seeing hospitals past their normal capacity,” said Dr. Tina Stefanski, the state public health director for the Acadiana region, in an interview with The Current. “It’s really important that we realize we should follow the stay-at-home order and stay home.” 

One more death, bringing the total 17, and nine new confirmed cases were reported in Lafayette Parish by the health department on Friday. Current regional models released by the Louisiana Department of Health show a steady increase in new infections over the next few months, even if shelter-in-place orders remain in effect. 

The new Shop Safe policy, announced by Mayor-President Josh Guillory Thursday, clarifies state guidelines that have been in place for weeks but sends a somewhat mixed message. On the one hand, local officials say Shop Safe sends a clearer signal to businesses confused about their status over the last month. Issued March 22, with subsequent clarifications, the governor’s stay-home order defines “essential” businesses, prohibits others from operating but leaves ample gray area, which Shop Safe addresses. Guillory himself urged citizens to stay home except when necessary, reiterating the threat posed by coronavirus. 

On the other hand, the updated guidance is clearly intended to blunt the economic impact of the virus by clearing a more obvious path for businesses to operate. In that sense, the policy has the net effect of encouraging commerce despite the continued presence of a virulent disease. It’s a risk-benefit calculation, administration officials say. 

“We need to be able to have some benefit. We’ve got to be able to open up some of these businesses to get the economy rolling again and do so safely,” Dr. Doug Clement, the first-ever parish medical director (an unpaid advisory position in the mayor-president’s office), said at Thursday’s briefing. Clement echoed the mayor-president’s sentiment that Shop Safe represents a manageable risk. “We need to start bringing our lives back online.” 

To what extent Shop Safe will yield more commerce is unclear. “I believe this sets the guidance that business knows it needs to live up to,” says LEDA President Gregg Gothreaux. “A lot of people will open up now, if they weren’t certain they were allowed to.”

Gothreaux’s right about businesses re-opening. But will customers show up? Responses on social media have been mixed, with many deeply concerned the policy might spread the infection and others thrilled to see commerce back in action. There was ample evidence Friday morning that some small retailers had been awaiting clearance to re-open. For example, both the Bertrand Drive and Kaliste Saloom locations of the four-decades-old Bevo’s, a women’s clothing and accessories store, reopened today, as did gift shop Caroline & Company and women’s clothing store Herringstone’s.

LDH weighed in only generally on the policy, which is in some ways more restrictive than what the governor’s order requires of businesses in the “grey area” category, with one exception: The governor’s order had previously been interpreted to cap gatherings at 10 people while Shop Safe imposes a 25% cap limit based on fire code occupancy. Larger facilities, by that measure, could host many more than 10 people at a time. Local officials insist this isn’t a change to the policy itself, despite the effect. 

On Thursday, Guillory responded to questions about LDH’s approval of the Shop Safe policy saying the local guidelines fit the letter and spirit of the state’s stay-home order, but he did not address whether and to what extent the state health department had a hand in crafting the policy itself. 

“I spoke with the mayor-president generally about policy and reiterated that we were under a stay-at-home order,” Stefanksi says of her role, as a regional official with LDH. She defers questions of policy to the governor’s order. In an email forwarded to the press Friday morning, a special counsel to Gov. John Bel Edwards affirmed that LCG’s legal interpretation of the stay-home order is consistent with the March stay-home directive. 

It’s been a confusing message to untangle: How do you “stay at home” and stay open? If the legal interpretation announced Thursday is consistent with the stay-home order, why for weeks was law enforcement shutting down businesses like those that re-opened today?

“We could have done this before. Lesson learned,” Chief Communications Officer Jamie Angelle said, acknowledging that per the “ad hoc” application of the governor’s order some businesses that may have otherwise been open for the last month had been ordered to close with light-touch enforcement. Angelle chalked the belated clarity up to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and the blunt and forceful reaction from state government. “We have been trying to understand many new things,” Angelle said. 

The governor may yet extend his order beyond April 30. Edwards told reporters Friday that Louisiana is not yet at Phase 1 of the federal reopening guidelines released this week. New Orleans, the area hardest hit in the state, opted to keep local stay-home policies in place until May 16. Across the board, the LDH models released this week show dramatic spikes in new infections by early May if the stay-home order is relaxed or lifted

Lafayette, in a sense, is charting a legal path for other cities. With the governor’s approval, the interpretation could be applied elsewhere. Federal guidelines by and large leave the pace of reopening to state governments but recommend a phased approach. Still, Stefanski and other public officials are urging caution, displaying obvious concern that the effect of the last month of isolation could be undone in a bid to put Louisiana back to work. 

“A great concern of mine is if people don’t follow [the governor’s] directives, we’ll see a further spread,” she says. 

Additional reporting by Leslie Turk

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