Virus Outbreak Louisiana

The nearly deserted Bourbon Street, which is normally bustling with tourists and revelers, stands in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell have ordered all restaurants and bars to close except for takeout, and asked residents to remain home and maintain social distancing from others when outside, due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered all 4.6 million people in Louisiana to stay at home starting at 5 p.m. on Monday unless they’re performing an essential task like getting food or medicine.

Workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors’ offices and other critical infrastructure are exempt from the directive issued Sunday by the Louisiana Democrat.

“The bottom line is we are in a race against time when it comes to this coronavirus and it’s rapid spread in Louisiana,” Edwards said at a news conference.

The impact of the coronavirus in Louisiana is a trajectory similar to that of Italy, where infected patients have overwhelmed hospitals, he said, warning that Louisiana’s health system could soon be overloaded.

“There is no reason to believe we won’t be the next Italy,” Edwards said. Already, Louisiana has the third highest number of cases per capita among U.S. states, he said.

New York, California, Illinois and some cities have issued similar shelter in place orders in the last few days. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell had issued a similar order for that city two days ago.

As of Sunday, coronavirus infections in Louisiana have climbed to more than 830, with 20 deaths, state health officials said.

This novel coronavirus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in some, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators.

Edwards said manufacturers and utilities also can remain open but businesses such as theaters, concert halls, hair salons and children’s play places should close.

“I do not take this action lightly, but there are some basic facts that we just simply cannot deny or ignore,” Edwards said, describing the state’s tenfold increase in cases during just one week. He said the state could run out of health care capacity between seven to 10 days.

Edwards said that the order will stay in place through Sunday April 12.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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