Gov. Edwards calls on residents to get flu shots; additional $300 in unemployment benefits forthcoming

Gov. says everyone on unemployment will get extra $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards called upon Louisiana residents to get a flu shot to help the state’s healthcare system as it prepares to battle both COVID-19 and the flu in the coming months.

The governor made the comments during a news conference Thursday, Aug. 13.

Edwards said the number of COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals has decreased to around 1,300, which is down from 1,600 three weeks ago. He said if it were not for his statewide mask mandate and restrictions on bars the number of hospitalizations would be more than 2,000.

ONE-STOP-SHOP: Stats, links related to COVID-19

Despite the decrease in hospitalized patients, the governor warned hospitals in the state are still strained because of COVID-19. He said 15 hospitals do not have any Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity and 11 hospitals do not have any medical surge beds available.

The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) reported 1,137 positive COVID-19 cases Thursday. Edwards said the positivity rate has decreased from 12.5% on Aug. 1 to 10.33%. However, he said state health officials are still concerned because the death rate remains high. See the governor’s full comments below.

The racial disparity in Louisiana’s COVID-19 deaths appears to be narrowing, but Edwards said African Americans remain disproportionately affected by the virus.

White residents, who make up 62.8% of the state’s population, now account for 49.35% of COVID-19 deaths. African American residents, who make up 32.8% of the state’s population, now account for 48.65% of COVID-19 deaths.

Doctors who joined Edwards for the news conference advised residents to ensure they are up to date on their vaccinations, especially children.

Dr. Gary Wiltz, who is the CEO of Teche Action Clinics and a member of the governor’s health equity task force, said it was very important that adults get immunized for pneumonia and the flu.

Wiltz said getting immunized is an “active way” to help the state fight COVID-19 because it could prevent you from being hospitalized from the flu or pneumonia in the fall.

Edwards said doctors with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned there could potentially be increases in both flu cases and COVID-19 cases this fall, which would put a strain on hospitals.

The governor said the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) received guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor late Wednesday, Aug. 12 on how to implement President Donald Trump’s executive order for additional unemployment benefits.

More: La. surpasses 1.5M coronavirus tests; hospitals remained stressed despite decrease in patients

President Trump’s executive order called for an additional $300 in unemployment benefits funded by the CARES Act and $100 funded by states.

Edwards said since the state’s CARES ACT funding is already allocated and it does not have any of its additional funding to pull from, the new guidance allows the state to provide $300 in additional unemployment benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund.

Edwards says he anticipates all individuals who are receiving unemployment benefits will receive an additional $300 in benefits and will be retroactive to Aug. 1.

He said he did not know when the additional unemployment checks would be going out to Louisiana residents because there are still several steps the federal government has to take in allocating the funding.

More than 400,000 Louisiana residents are currently receiving unemployment benefits, according to Edwards.

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