NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards requested a major disaster declaration from the federal government Tuesday to help respond to the state's increasing amount of COVID-19 cases.
If approved, Louisiana wold join New York, California and Washington in acquiring disaster status to fight the new coronavirus pandemic, which has already led to 34 deaths in the Pelican State and threatens to overwhelm the New Orleans area hospital system by the first week of April, according to Edwards.
"We have overwhelmed our stocks of key resources needed for our hospitals, first responders and emergency managers," Edwards said Tuesday. "There will be a long-lasting impact on the state of Louisiana, and we have taken aggressive mitigation measures to fight the spread of COVID-19."
According to Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Health, Louisiana is suffering from the highest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases in not only the country, but the world.
"I have been appreciative of the support of the federal government, especially Vice President Mike Pence’s COVID-19 task force, and I am hopeful FEMA will quickly approve our request as we continue our response and work towards recovery."
With the process in motion, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will now process Edward's request and then present it to president Donald Trump to sign and declare a major disaster in Louisiana.
Louisiana would join New York, Washington state and California in having a disaster declared to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, after Trump approved declarations for those states in the last several days.
The declaration would also reflect Louisiana's dangerous COVID-19 spread that tops the nation along with those states, yet has received little national attention in comparison.
In general, federal disaster declaration are managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and enable federal funding and assistance to states and counties (in this case, parishes) responding to emergencies.
If signed, Louisiana would receive federal funding and assistance for services such as disaster unemployment assistance, disaster case management and crisis counseling for residents impacted by the pandemic.
The state would also receive funds for medical, dental, childcare and funeral expenses, as well as statewide hazard mitigation to respond to the spread of the new coronavirus.
Edwards has also asked for full federal funding for emergency work and to "execute homeland security defense activities" in the fight against COVID-19.
It would be the latest in a long list of emergency declarations declared for a state hit by several severe storms, floods and tornadoes in the last 10 years.
Edwards' request comes one day after a statewide "Stay at Home" order went into effect in Louisiana, closing more businesses and limiting gathering down to essential tasks to stop the spread of the new coronavirus through social distancing.
Monday, a significant portion of the New Orleans Fire Department either tested positive for had been exposed to a case of COVID-19. The department was struggling to fill its already-depleted ranks as more firefighters become symptomatic.
As of Tuesday morning, 34 people have died from COVID-19, and nearly 1,200 people have tested positive for the virus in the 15 days since the first confirmed case in Louisiana.
Read Edwards' full statement below:
“It is still impossible to know exactly how long the COVID-19 pandemic will impact Louisiana, but what we do know is that we have more cases per capita than every state, except for New York and Washington. Sadly, 34 people have died in Louisiana and our case count continues to rise, which is why we need additional federal aid.” said Gov. Edwards. “We have overwhelmed our stocks of key resources needed for our hospitals, first responders and emergency managers. There will be a long-lasting impact on the state of Louisiana, and we have taken aggressive mitigation measures to fight the spread of COVID-19. I have been appreciative of the support of the federal government, especially Vice President Mike Pence’s COVID-19 task force, and I am hopeful FEMA will quickly approve our request as we continue our response and work towards recovery.”