Zoe Makepeace, left, and Jessica Makepeace linger over lunch Wednesday at a streetside table outside Morgan City's Cafe JoJo's. Some restaurants began to offer outdoor dining after indoor service was barred by COVID-19 rules. Restaurants will soon be able to offer indoor dining again, subject to social distancing rules and capacity limits.
The Daily Review/Bill Decker
From the Editor: Officials say parish pulled together during COVID-19
Not long after COVID-19 reached St. Mary Parish, Patterson Mayor Rodney Grogan discovered that three infected people lived on his block.
St. Mary Parish Homeland Security Director David Naquin found that he had assumed an unaccustomed role: procurer of surgical masks and gloves first for first responders, then for the parish’s medical professionals.
They were among the people who shared their experiences Tuesday during an event we’ve learned a new phrase to describe: the tele-town hall. It was a public teleconference by the Louisiana Institute for Public Health working with the Louisiana Department of Health.
Tuesday, the day of the event, was the day after Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that his stay at home order will expire Friday. It will be replaced by a new proclamation lifting restrictions according to federal Phase One guidelines.
The title of the tele-town hall was “Preparing for the Next Phase.” But the people who took part spent much of the time looking back at two momentous and sometimes frightening months.
And what they saw, looking back, surprised them. They saw people working together: locals with locals, locals with the state, the state with federal authorities.
That’s not true everywhere. After Edwards passed up the first chance to ease COVID-19 economic restrictions, some state lawmakers made moves designed to force his hand.
First, they considered using their legal authority to void the emergency declaration on which the stay at home order was based. Then they considered removing Edwards’ authority to enforce the stay at home order.
While state public health officials struggled to prevent a sudden spike in infections that would overwhelm Louisiana hospitals, more than half a million of the state’s workers were laid off.
In Washington, congressional Democrats are pushing for more aid to states hurt by the economic restrictions, maybe even another $1,200-per-person stimulus payment. Republicans are wondering where the money is supposed to come from, especially after the $3 trillion boost already approved.
Sometimes President Donald Trump seems to be pushing for a faster reopening than is called for in his own administration’s Phase One guidance.
The moves in St. Mary weren’t always in lockstep.
After Edwards’ original stay at home order closed some businesses, Grogan found that Patterson people were gathering on their own at night in ways that violated crowd size and social distancing guidelines.
So, on March 31, Grogan consulted the City Council and instituted a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
Neither the parish nor the other east St. Mary city governments followed suit. But “I was worried about the safety, the health of the community,” Grogan said.
Other officials took a different approach. At an April 3 press conference, Sheriff Blaise Smith said his observation was that social distancing rules were begin violated at local stores. He compared the gatherings there to family reunions.
Parish President David Hanagriff signed an order limiting most stores to 6 a.m.-8 p.m. operation and calling for a one-person-one-cart rule. On April 24, those restrictions were lifted along with Patterson’s curfew. Grogan said that decision was made in conversation with the parish’s mayors.
Naquin said people tended to view the pandemic the way they’d view a more common homeland security challenge: a hurricane.
“The problem is that a hurricane affects eight parishes,” Naquin said. “This time all 64 parishes are affected, and all 50 states.”
One of the big early challenges was a lack of personal protective equipment.
“We tried to fill that gap,” he said. “We stepped out of our norm a little bit.”
Homeland Security wasn’t alone, he said.
“We were unified as far as what we were going to do,” Naquin said. “We were unified as far as the steps we were going to take.”
Bill Decker is managing editor of The Daily Review.