Pence heads to Louisiana amid renewed surge in virus cases

National News

Vice President Mike Pence gives a thumbs-up before departing on Air Force Two from Philadelphia International Airport after a series of stops in Pennsylvania on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP, Pool)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence travels Tuesday to Louisiana, which has reemerged as one of the nation’s hot spots for the coronavirus only months after seeming to contain its outbreak.

The Republican vice president was scheduled to meet with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, members of the congressional delegation and health officials to discuss Louisiana’s response to the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.

Pence’s visit comes as Louisiana’s confirmed virus cases, percentage of positive tests and COVID-19 patient hospitalization rates surge — worrying public health experts about in a state that previously appeared successful in combating the virus outbreak.

“Louisiana has been on the radar, literally front and center, of the White House Coronavirus Task Force since the very beginning. We’ve never come off of that radar,” Edwards said. “I think that’s a big reason why the vice president chose to come to Baton Rouge and to Louisiana.”

In response to the surge, the Democratic governor enacted a statewide mask mandate for people 8 and older that took effect Monday. He also returned bars to takeout and delivery only. Restaurants, casinos, gyms, salons and other businesses remain open, with occupancy restrictions.

Pence also plans a discussion at Louisiana State University’s Tiger Stadium focused on fall college reopening plans and the future of university sports programs in the pandemic. LSU’s Tigers won the college football national championship title in January.

The Baton Rouge region is one of three metropolitan areas where federal officials recently set up new drive-thru testing sites. The federally supported sites will run through Saturday.

Edwards said federal support has helped Louisiana reach more than 304,000 virus tests so far in July — surpassing the monthly goal of 200,000. Still, the Baton Rouge test sites haven’t drawn thousands of people daily, as officials hoped.

More than 3,300 Louisiana residents have died from COVID-19, according to the state health department. Louisiana again has moved into the top five states for new virus cases per capita in recent days, adding anywhere from 1,300 to 2,600 new confirmed cases daily over the past week.

The sizable boost in cases can’t be explained solely by increased testing, because the percentage of tests coming back positive is growing — and the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized is increasing as well, reaching 1,308 people Monday.

Louisiana has had nearly 80,000 confirmed cases since its first positive test in March. Experts say the actual infection rate is likely much higher. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

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