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Governor's limit on large crowds, school closures sends St. Tammany scrambling

Proms were cancelled just hours before they were to take place, according to the St. Tammany school superintendent said.

MANDEVILLE, La. — St. Tammany Parish leaders projected unity and calm amid the fast-developing coronavirus crisis Friday, but were forced to scramble to adjust after Gov. John Bel Edwards closed public schools and prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people.

St. Tammany Parish President Mike Cooper said earlier in the week he expected to have updates every few days, but now sees things changing by the hour.

Cooper encouraged residents to keep shopping at local businesses while using common-sense methods to ward off the COVID-19 virus, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing.

Joined at a news conference by 25 local officials and several hospital administrators, Cooper said area hospitals are fully prepared to test for the virus and treat patients.

St. Tammany has two residents with presumptive positive tests and a third patient being treated in the parish.

Lakeview Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacques Guillot said all the parish hospitals have sufficient personal protective equipment and masks for staff to stay safe, but asked residents not to hoard N-95 respiratory masks that need to be held in reserve for medical professionals.

The biggest concern in the parish is dealing with the closure of senior centers and schools.

Julie Agan, director of the Council on Aging of St. Tammany (COAST) announced all seven senior centers in the parish would close until April 13, the same day targeted by Edwards for schools to reopen.

Agan said COAST would arrange your deliver meals to seniors who rely on the meals provided at the centers.

Likewise, St. Tammany Schools Superintendent Trey Folse also said his priority was serving public schools students who rely on free or reduced lunches and breakfasts at school. He said nearly half of the district’s 39,000 public school students qualify for the meals.

Folse said he would meet with principals on Tuesday and come up with a plan for students to come in daily and pick up lunches, along with breakfasts for the next morning.

He also said he is working on a plan for distance learning, using technology the district already had available for remote classes.

The governor’s announcement Friday had an immediate impact on students at Lakeshore High School and North Shore High School, where senior proms had to be cancelled just hours before they were to begin.

Folse said hundreds of students had already purchased gowns and tuxedoes and venues were rented and paid for, but the gatherings would have violated the governor’s order limiting gatherings to fewer than 250 people.

The Washington-St. Tammany Parish court announced it would suspend all civil and criminal trials scheduled between now and April 12.

The Northshore Community Foundation announced a new Northshore Emergency Relief Fund to support “boots on the ground” organizations dealing with coronavirus.

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