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Louisiana

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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Virus Update

JBE Thursday update: strike team incoming

The gist: Once again, Gov. John Bel Edwards made an impassioned plea to the people of Louisiana, asking them to stay home and help #flattenthecurve. The current trajectory for the state hasn’t bent to promising numbers quite yet, with 510 more cases and 18 new deaths since yesterday. A 28% increase in case numbers.

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Virus Update

JBE Wednesday update: Trump signs declaration, resources on the way

The gist: Late last night, President Donald Trump approved the major disaster declaration requested by Gov. John Bel Edwards. With the declaration signed, Louisiana has greater access to funds and resources that we desperately need to combat COVID-19.

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What does ‘essential’ mean, anyway?

The gist: Now that we’re officially in stay-at-home mode — the governor’s order took effect at 5 p.m. Monday afternoon — it remains somewhat unclear what is and what isn’t considered an essential business. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order cited federal guidelines, and you can find that list is here. But confusion nevertheless abounds. 

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Most essential jobs are what you would expect. Healthcare and first responders, pharmacists, law enforcement, air traffic controllers and grocery store employees probably come to mind. If you thought about it a little bit longer, you might come up with others like postal workers and laundromats. The list is much bigger than that. 

The rest are a little bit harder to pin down. The governor does spell out a number of businesses that are explicitly closed, building on previous proclamations: amusement parks, museums, theaters, zoos, gyms, barber shops, tattoo parlors and strip clubs. Most retail is closed up, save convenience stores, but car dealers are allowed to remain open. 

There is some wiggle room. The order has a blanket provision covering anything not explicitly laid out. Any businesses not covered can stay open if they observe social distancing policies, keep employees a minimum of 6 feet apart, and limit rolls to 10 people or fewer. By design or otherwise, the grey area allows some breathing room for commerce to continue. 

The order has halted some major employers. Lafayette’s Stuller Inc. announced ahead of the 5 p.m. deadline that it would stop operations and pay its employees for the duration of the shelter order. Others are continuing to mull where they fit in. 

Local authorities will enforce the order. Sheriff Mark Garber says the public can report violations via 911, saying his approach is to appeal to “common sense” first before escalating a clampdown. 

“The spirit of this order is to save lives,” Garber says. 
Are you working for a non-essential business but still required to go to work? Let us know. You can fill out this form anonymously.

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Virus Update

JBE Monday update: Remember the 2016 Flood? COVID-19 is like that

The gist: Gov. John Bel Edwards and a team of state officials and health experts took viewer questions over the course of an hour on LPB. Sally-Ann Roberts hosted the event, providing a soothing voice while urging the state to keep #flatteningthecurve.

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Once more for those in the back: Mitigation was the talk of the evening. State officials compared Louisiana’s current situation to the 2016 floods. Sure, the area could sustain 20 inches of rain over the course of two months, but 20 inches of rain in three days? That’s the level of COVID-19 cases the state is staring down.

“No one knows how long this is going to last,” Edwards said. “Take all the information we’ve given you and use it.”

Treatments: Though testing has increased, officials say don’t look for a cure any time soon. For now, supportive care is what’s available, helping the lungs of those affected work through the muck, but there is no fully tested medication.

Cover that sneeze: A study out of Germany suggests that asymptomatic patients usually shed the virus sooner, LPB reported. The study also shows that the virus sheds itself very quickly for the first few days then tapers off after.

According to Dr. Alexander Billioux, the state’s assistant health secretary, officials should know within the next week whether the “Stay at Home” measures work.

Unemployment: The Louisiana Workforce Commission has seen a massive wave of unemployment claims — 71,000 people had filed claims as of Monday. Officials announced that the one-week waiting period would be waived for new claims.

“We’re going to get through this, we’re going to come back and we’re going to get through this together. Everyone should have hope,” Edwards reiterated. He also said the class of 2020, both high school and college, will see their celebrations happen in the future, though he wasn’t quite sure what those celebrations would look like.

LPB also announced a new broadcasting structure, adding a block from 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. that focuses on middle and high school social studies content. Younger kids can refer to PBS Kids’s award-winning lineup.

Key takeaways: Don’t be a spreader. Stay away from others. Exercise. Hike. Read a book. We’re in this for the long haul.

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Virus Update

JBE Sunday update: ‘stay at home’ ordered

The gist: In an emergency press conference called today, John Bel Edwards pulled the trigger on the awaited, “Stay at Home” order that several other states enacted. According to the order, which will begin at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 23, all non-essential businesses will close to the public.

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Virus Update

JBE Wednesday update: surge is coming

The gist: In an unusual show of unity, Gov. John Bel Edwards was joined today by Attorney General Jeff Landry to deliver the somber message that the state has two weeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Another familiar face, LSU football coach Ed Orgeron, joined the elected officials for the daily press briefing on the virus quickly spreading in the state.

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What you need to know: Louisiana numbers likely to jump substantially. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better, the governor said. “Over the next 24-36 hours, in all likelihood, you’re going to see the number of cases in Louisiana jump tremendously because we’re going to get test results, probably over 1,000 test results,” he said.

Need unemployment? Edwards announced a waiving of the one-week wait for unemployment benefits. That doesn’t necessarily mean those out of work will get a call back right away, but it should help, he said. For small business owners, Edwards has put in a request for assistance from the Small Business Association for disaster loans.

Also, Edwards has suspended all eviction and foreclosure proceedings, but people should still continue to make their rent or mortgage payments.

Health and home: Coach O called out those who still feel the need to go out into the world with a resounding, “Stay home.” Edwards cautioned against stocking up for an apocalypse and mentioned a week of supplies is fine. Buckling down for the next two weeks remains absolutely crucial. Landry expressed support for the governor’s measures to limit gatherings to 50 people, close bars and limit restaurant service. The message from all three: Don’t be a spreader.

Testing access still limited: The governor said the state is “ramping up” its testing capacity, noting drive-thru screening locations in Orleans and Jefferson parishes are expected by the end of the week. Approximately 400 National guard soldiers have been activated, and they will like be working at one of the drive-thru testing sites. The drive-thru service that shut down after less than hour yesterday in Baton Rouge after running out of supplies is back in business.

Rapid expansion: Edwards said the state has opened negotiations with the VA to make use of the three hospitals within the state. Both new bed space and new bed count will come online within the next two to three weeks. The state also looks to identify rural hospitals that need renovations to handle increased numbers and assist them with bringing those much-needed medical facilities up to code as quickly as possible.

A little good news: The LA Wallet app, a digital driver’s license that functions as a valid ID, is currently free in the app store. The app is typically $5.

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Oil falls, coronavirus arrives, economic turmoil for Lafayette ahead

The gist: On Monday, the price of oil had its greatest one-day plunge ever, and coronavirus officially arrived in Louisiana. Markets tumbled nationally, with signs pointing toward a global recession on the horizon. These developments pose threats the Lafayette economy is particularly vulnerable to.

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The Buchanan garage problem redux: Now what?

What happens next with the Buchanan garage is unclear, but the options are limited.

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Two key LUS, Fiber employees back on the job as uncertainty lingers

The gist: Two familiar faces, Jeff Stewart and Teles Fremin, returned to work this week at LUS and LUS Fiber, respectively, after being cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the Guillory administration’s allegations of a criminal coverup at the entities. Questions remain about the status of any criminal investigation and the agencies’ leadership.

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Get caught up, quickly: Mayor-President Josh Guillory dropped a bombshell on local radio just a month into his administration, claiming that Lafayette City Police had “raided” LUS last year under Joel Robideaux’s administration. Guillory told the station he had put four unnamed employees on paid leave and would ask Louisiana State Police to initiate a criminal probe. The “raid” was apparently linked to Robideaux’s ongoing internal investigation into questionable payments from LUS and LCG to Fiber; the Public Service Commission, which has limited oversight of Fiber, confirms it is reviewing what Robideaux turned over late last year for possible violations of the Fair Competition Act

There was no raid. “I saw no findings of a raid,” Cpl. Bridgette Dugas, public information officer with Lafayette Police, told The Acadiana Advocate a week after Guillory made those comments.

Based on information from a “whistle blower complaint,” LCG accused the four employees, whose names were redacted, of having information about the destruction of records and an “attempt to cover up a crime,” according to the letter to state police. The Current has not named Stewart and Fremin until now, only after multiple sources confirmed they had returned from leave and were cleared of suspicion — before any criminal probe by an outside agency has even commenced. 

A void in experience at both LUS and Fiber. Stewart and Fremin were replaced as interim directors of their respective entities late last year when Robideaux named his CAO, Lowell Duhon, to the interim post at LUS and moved Kayla Miles Brooks into the top position at Fiber. Public records obtained by The Current confirm that NewGen, LUS’s consulting engineer who last year deemed Duhon and Brooks unqualified for the interim jobs, is scheduled to be in Lafayette this week for a site visit as part of its annual review of the public utility.

Both Stewart and Fremin have been with LUS for nearly two decades. NewGen met with Guillory in January, reminding the mayor-president in a follow-up email on Feb. 1 that LUS has been without a permanent director for 18 months, suggesting ongoing discomfort with the lack of permanent leadership. 

Teles Fremin

The Feb. 6 letter to state police, written by City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan and widely released to local media, specifically names only one person, former LUS Director Terry Huval, while redacting the names of the current employees. The central allegation stems from 2011 emails alleged to be missing from an eight-year count of Huval’s email records, suggesting the destruction of computer files and email archives (along with “possible manipulation of accounting or public finance records.”)

“It appears that there was somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 of Terry Huval’s e-mails deleted for the 2011 time period,” Logan writes. 

He goes on to say, “We believe certain individuals at LUS & LUS Fiber are guilty of injuring public records … theft … malfeasance … and/or criminal mischief.”

In confirming Monday that two of the four employees had returned to their jobs, LCG spokesman Jamie Angelle declined to comment on what he described as an “ongoing investigation.”

State police confirms it is not looking into the matter. “Everything is in the hands of the DA at this point, so we are on hold,” says PIO Thomas Gossen.

District Attorney Keith Stutes notified the administration on Feb. 7 that he considered Logan’s letter a complaint and requested a wide range of documentation, including audits and internal investigations into former or current employees

“I have received, preliminarily, some of the information I requested,” Stutes says. “At this point, it’s a review process; it’s still under examination.”

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‘Not talking about it will not make it go away’ — Marja Broussard

The president of the Lafayette NAACP chapter says racism is still reality. Pretending it doesn’t exist won’t fix it.

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‘My mission is to uncover that hidden history’ — Phebe Hayes

Historically people have tried to weaken the image of black men and women. Phebe Hayes wants to fix that.

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