By Baptist Message staff
BATON ROUGE, La. (LBM) – Gov. John Bel Edwards announced at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that Louisiana will remain in Phase Two of reopening the state for at least two more weeks,
Citing a continued increase in novel coronavirus related cases and hospitalizations, Edwards said the decision was necessary to keep the state in Phase Two until at least Aug. 7. Phase Two was set to expire Friday, July 23.
Edwards said as the number rose to No. 2 per capita in COVID cases in the state behind only New York.
Louisiana’s hospitalizations also continue to rise, as has the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive.
All restrictions issued under the current phase will remain in place. This includes:
–a 50 percent capacity restriction for businesses and churches
–a statewide mask mandate for anyone eight years or older or with a major health condition
–limitations of bars to curbside food service only
–and a reduction of indoor social gatherings to 50 people.
Louisiana Baptists’ Executive Director Steve Horn told the Baptist Message he was not surprised by Edwards’ decision to keep the state in Phase Two.
“Gov. Edwards has indicated from the beginning that he would follow the White House guidelines, and the guidelines say to keep Louisiana in Phase Two,” he said. “The most disheartening part of this crisis to me is the amount of discord and disunity in our Louisiana Baptist churches concerning the governor’s recommendations.
“I am not surprised by the difference of opinions, but I am surprised and deeply troubled over the amount of vitriol flowing from words and attitudes,” Horn said. “We must remember we are on the same side. We all want COVID to go away. Everyone is weary.
“I’m praying Satan will not get a toehold in our hearts and spirits that results in us turning on one another instead of praying for one another and looking for opportunities to do good. Paul reminded those living in Colossae to ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.’ (Colossians 4:6).”
Horn said he was pleased by the number of Louisiana Baptists who have joined Edwards in the three days of prayer and fasting that began Monday, July 20, at noon.
“I sense many are joining with others to pray and fast,” Horn said. “I was on the conference call when a pastor asked the governor to call for these three days. I surely pray Louisiana Baptists agree that we need a mighty movement of God.”
Edwards also encouraged Louisianans to join him in the effort.
“It’s three days of prayer and fasting for our state, in particular for the COVID-19 public health emergency, for those individuals who are sick that they will be healed, for the care takers that they would have the grace, courage and stamina to continue to do the work that they have been doing, for family members of those who have died, that they will find comfort and peace, and for the state as a whole will come together and understand that the virus is the enemy,” he said. “We are not one another’s enemy here in this particular situation.”
Edwards and Dr. Alex Billioux of the Louisiana Department of Health said they’re mindful of the rapidly approaching opening of school (within three weeks), but believe guidelines set by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in conjunction with the health department are the best option for in-person learning.
“At end of the day schools will open and whatever phase we’re in will dictate how they operate,” Edwards said. “You’re going to see a variety of approaches.”
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recently endorsed a reopening plan offered by Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley that included a face mask mandate for school employees and students and other measures such as class size and school bus limits.
“Superintendent Brumley and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have coordinated all of their planning with the Office of Public Health and with CDC guidelines, to make sure that we are doing things as safely as we possibly can, which is why they included as part of the guidelines a mask mandate,” Edwards said.
“Dr. [Robert] Redfield, the head of CDC, said on the White House [COVID-19] task force telephone conference last week that where you are going to open schools in states like Louisiana where you still have more COVID cases than you would like to have, that mask usage is important.”