By DR. COURTNEY N. PHILLIPS | Louisiana Department of Health Secretary
These past few months have seen us all adjusting to a steadily evolving “new normal.”
Our state all but shut down during March and April as most Louisianans took to heart Governor John Bel Edwards’ Stay at Home order. I know it has been challenging to not be able to hug our friends or our high-risk loved ones through all of this, to homeschool, to work from home, to continue to work at physical locations where the rules of operation continue to change, or to be unexpectedly out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Dr. Courtney N. Phillips, |
While keeping us apart physically, in many ways the pandemic has brought us closer through frequent phone calls, texts and video chats with our loved ones. We have looked out for one another through acts of kindness, such as delivering groceries to a vulnerable neighbor who must stay indoors for their own safety. Let’s continue to nurture that spirit of community and togetherness as our state gradually reopens and we cautiously venture into the world once more.
I thank everyone who took the Stay at Home order seriously, flattening the curve and stemming the spread of the virus. We grieve those lost to COVID-19 — our neighbors, our loved ones, our colleagues — but we celebrate the many lives saved thanks to your cooperation.
The road ahead
Louisiana began a gradual, safety-driven reopening in mid-May under Governor Edwards’ leadership. This phased reopening, called Roadmap to a Resilient Louisiana, lifts some restrictions and allows businesses to resume operations based on COVID-like illness, case growth and hospitalizations. These declines did not just happen on their own. We together made this happen — by wearing masks, staying 6 feet away from others, minimizing how often we go out, and washing our hands and not touching our faces. This Louisiana spirit is what keeps us moving forward.
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On June 5, we entered Phase 2 of Roadmap to a Resilient Louisiana, but what does this mean? For many Louisianans, it means the sudden opportunity to dine out, shop, get a tattoo or massage, or get married with more than 10 people present. It also means many people may believe we can relax.
With the reopening of more businesses and increased capacity at already-reopened businesses, we may advise against it but people will begin to venture out in greater numbers. However, just because businesses and leisure activities are open does not mean there isn’t risk involved.
Businesses will continue to open gradually, but not the same as we’re used to. They will have to operate under strict requirements including limited occupancy with social distancing, masks for public-facing employees and increased sanitization. We are also strongly recommending good practices including offering temperature checks before a person can enter, posting the symptoms of COVID-19 outside with a request that symptomatic individuals not enter and posting signs thanking guests for wearing a mask.
We have control over our own preventive actions, such as wearing a mask and putting 6 feet of space between ourselves and others, but we cannot control the actions of others. Before making plans to go out, we encourage everyone to reduce the risk of exposure by considering the factors of Time - Space - People - Place, an assessment of risk developed by Ohio State University epidemiologist Dr. William Miller. To put it simply:
- Time: The more time you spend with other people, the greater the risk.
- Space: The closer you are to other people, the greater the risk.
- People: The more people you interact with, the greater the risk.
- Place: Indoor activities are riskier than outdoor activities.
Here are some tips for considering Time - Space - People - Place:
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During Phase 2, we encourage high-risk individuals to continue staying at home for their safety. This includes individuals ages 65 and older, long-term care facility residents, and vulnerable individuals such as those who are immunocompromised or have one or more of the following health conditions with poor control:
- High blood pressure
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heart disease
Remember that everyone is still safer at home. With the easing of restrictions comes the possibility we could see what other countries and states are seeing: a spike in COVID-19 case growth. We do not want to slide backward, so we must all do our part to continue moving forward. This includes contact tracing, testing and mitigation measures such as those below, but it takes all of us doing our part to prevent a new spike in cases.
Defending against COVID-19
As we continue to adjust to the new normal and avoid a new wave of infections, it’s vitally important that we all continue to wear masks and stay 6 feet away from others when in public.
Face masks or face coverings should be worn anytime when you are near others who are not in your immediate household. The only exceptions are children under the age of 2 and people with severe breathing issues. I wear my mask every day whether I’m at the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), LDH headquarters or the Capitol — and I am thankful to see others doing the same. I wear my mask to protect you, and you should wear your mask to protect me. It’s being a good neighbor to everyone around you.
I know that it can feel strange to breathe and even talk while wearing a mask but it is for all of our health and safety. I am confident we can all get comfortable in our masks and make wearing them as normal as getting dressed in the morning.
Along with masking up, social distancing is one of our most reliable tactics to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Social distancing means maintaining a physical space of 6 feet between yourself and people from outside your household, something which does not come easily to Louisianans.
As a daughter of Louisiana, born and raised in Plaquemines Parish, I know firsthand that the need to be friendly and to congregate is instilled in us at birth. We thrive in one another’s company, which we can enjoy so long as we do so safely — 6 feet apart and masked. Yes, it is different from the social gatherings we are used to, but so long as we are together we will shoulder through these challenging times.
Along with masking up and observing social distancing, to help keep everyone healthy:
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are unavailable.
- Clean high-touch surfaces and high-traffic areas frequently.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Sneeze and cough into a tissue, elbow or mask.
- Stay home if you are sick, especially if you have a fever greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Isolate yourself from others in the household and contact your medical provider. Staying home when sick saves lives.
This is our new normal until we have a vaccine. Take care of yourselves and your neighbors, and once again the bonds of Louisiana spirit will see us through.
We frequently update our website with helpful information to help keep you safe during this pandemic. Visit http://ldh.la.gov/Coronavirus.