Are we ready? Reopening Louisiana’s economy during COVID-19 pandemic raises questions, creates challenges

NWLA region’s public health director says she would rather slow the process a “little bit”

Louisiana reopening: It's about time or it's too soon?

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — As Louisiana begins to slowly reopen its economy starting Friday, one of the biggest questions that you’ll hear right away is “Are we ready?”

Like most things, it depends on who you ask. So we turned to Dr. Martha Whyte, the state’s regional public health director for Northwest Louisiana.

We may be able to avoid the worst of the predictions that reopening could cause the death toll to surge within just weeks, she said.

But to do so, Whyte said, people must follow the rules, including social distancing.

“Because if we don’t, then we’re going to see more cases. And we’re going to see more restrictions. And we’re going to see sicker people.”

And Whyte said if she could choose what people would do, she would slow down the reopening a “little bit.”

She also knows many Louisiana residents simply don’t want to hear that right now, especially after two months under a stay-at-home order.

It’s actually a moot point anyway, Whyte said, considering that the process of speeding up reopenings already is well underway in many states throughout the country.

“We all have seen the increase in traffic and the increase in business and people out and about. And so, right now if we’re all going to be out and about, I’d rather people not suffer economically," she explained.

"Like, don’t do both. Don’t suffer health-wise and economically. So I can kind of see where we are and why we’ve chosen this path.”

Whyte also shared the most common question she gets about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People ask me, ‘If we can wear a mask and not get the virus, why can’t we, why isn’t everything open?’”

Wearing a mask is not going to give you 100% protection, only possibly 75% if you wear a cloth mask, Whyte explained.

“So the reason we can’t just open and say everybody wear a mask is because a) they’re not doing it, they’re not wearing their masks. And b), they’re not wearing them correctly.”

First, cover the nose.

And, second, don’t touch the outside of the mask — where germs accumulate — as you try to adjust or remove the mask.

On Monday afternoon, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ announced that he will allow the stay-at-home order to expire Friday and that Phase I of slowly reopening the state’s economy will get underway.

Among those supporting the idea of going slowly, reopening the economy in stages is resident Mary Maxwell. “I don’t think I’m in a rush. I mean, I think I wanna, I do want to be cautiously optimistic about it. But I do think we need to take it slower.”

Shoppers like Maxwell are not alone.

“Too soon. (pause) It’s too soon,” Yalanda Baker said.

While there is no question where she stands on the issue of reopening, Baker also feels strongly that more people will needlessly die if the process is rushed.

“That’s what I’m saying, yeah. It’s going to go up. It’s gonna be an explosion. They’ve opened Texas up. It’s just, it’s too fast. It’s still here. It’s not gone.”

And Elizabeth Byrd worries that members of the the public still are not taking this health threat seriously. That despite all the warnings and frequent updates on the national death toll, which now stands at more than 80,000 lives lost.

“There’s just so many people not being careful, you know," Byrd said. "They’re just walking around without no mask, and they’re not social distancing. Look at all these people.”

Some of the latest models project that the nation’s COVID-19 death toll likely will reach 137,000 people by August.

Katherine Carmody is among those who say we simply cannot stay in this economic limbo any longer. “It is a big deal, but I think people need to get back to some sort of normalcy.”

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