story and photos by staff reporter Nora Drenner
“In the blink of an eye, something happens by chance – when you least expect it – sets you on a course that you never planned, into a future you never imagined.” Nicholas Sparks
On Sunday, March 22, Governor John Bel Edwards issued a stay-at-home order for Louisianans in response to COVID-19, citing the number of positive cases in the state have reached more than 800 spanning half the state’s 60 parishes.
“As our number of cases continue to grow,” said Edwards in his news conference, “I am directing all Louisianans to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary for you to leave.”
He continued, “This order is not something I take lightly, but it is necessary to protect the health, safety and well-being of our people, our communities and our way of life.”
The order went into effect at 5 p.m. Monday, March 23, however, in his news conference, Gov. Edwards urged folks to immediately act as though the order was already in place. The order remains in effect through April 12, however, it could be extended, noted Edwards.
“In Louisiana we have taken aggressive measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve; however, this is not enough,” said Edwards. He continued, “I am implementing this measure to help prevent you from becoming infected or infecting someone else.”
Under the stay-at-home order, folks can go to the grocery, convenience or warehouse store; and pharmacy; go to scheduled medical appointments after checking with your medical provider; grab takeout and drive through meals at restaurants; care for or support a friend or family member; take a walk, ride a bike, hike, jog and be in nature for exercise; walk pets and take them to the veterinarian if necessary; help someone get necessary supplies; and receive deliveries from any business which delivers.
The key to doing the above activities is to keep at last six feet of distance from others.
Day cares and early learning can stay open, but must follow directives from the Department of Health and Department of Education. “We need to make sure, at a minimum, that our healthcare workers can go to work,” Edwards said during his news conference.
The things folks cannot do under the new stay-at home order are go to work unless that work is providing essential services; visit friends and family if there is no urgent need; and visit loved ones in the hospital, nursing home, skilled nursing facility or other residential care facility, except for limited exceptions as provided on the facility websites.
The stay-at-home order also closes the following businesses:
All places of public amusement, whether indoors or outdoors, including but not limited to, locations with amusement rides, carnivals, amusement parks, water parks, trampoline parks, aquariums, zoos, museums, arcades, fairs, pool halls, children’s play centers, playgrounds, theme parks, any theaters, concert and music halls, adult entertainment venues, racetracks, and other similar businesses.
All personal care and grooming businesses, including but not limited to, barber shops, beauty salons, nail salons, spas, massage parlors, tattoo parlors, and other similar businesses.
All malls, except for stores in a mall that have a direct outdoor entrance and exit that provide essential services and products as provided by the US. Homeland Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
CISA guidelines which identify essential critical workers and businesses that must remain open during state and/or national emergencies such as COVID-19 can be found online at http://www.cisa.gov
Edwards further identified journalists as a critical workers in his press conference.
The governor also urged residents not to buy groceries, paper products and cleaning supplies for more than one week at a time to give time for restocking.
Additionally, Edwards previously signed proclamations and emergency orders implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic remain in effect .
Earlier in March, Edwards ordered all K-12 public schools closed. Soon after, casinos, bars, movie theatres, gyms and fitness centers were closed. Additionally, restaurants were limited to take-out, drive-through and delivery orders only.
Gathering of folks was also limited to 250 which cancelled or postponed concerts, festivals, sports games, school proms, high school and college graduations and more. Later the gathering of folks was limited to 50 and now under the new stay- at- home order the limit is 10. And the state’s April 4 elections were moved to June.
At the beginning of March there were no cases of COVID-19 in the state. A week later there were nearly 100 and when Edwards issued the stay-at-home order the number of cases was 838.
When school doors were shut March 13, working parents in Natchitoches and Sabine parishes scrambled to find babysitters, with many forced to take school age children to grandparents and other family members, often in a neighboring parish or even to TX, as local babysitters were limited. Teachers and administrators also went into quick mode to prepare for online learning opportunities, when available.
To- go meals were also set up at schools in both parishes to provide meals to children. Due to health concerns for staff onsite providing those meals and students picking up those meals, that program was suspended.
Prior to Louisiana’s first confirmed case, the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and Louisiana Department of Health began preparations for a pandemic.
As such, the Natchitoches Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness members attended a statewide webinar at NatCom911 Center that addressed Consequence Management and Support of the potential impacts of COVID-19 . The group was closely monitoring updates when Gov. Edward’s issued his March 13 state of emergency proclamation.
On March 16, Sabine Police Jury President Mike McCormic and Sabine Parish Homeland Security and Office of Emergency Preparedness Director David Davis declared a state of emergency for the community, with Natchitoches Parish Government President John Richmond and Many Mayor Ken Freeman quickly doing the same.
Additionally, a Louisiana State Police (LSP) news release upheld the governor’s authority, saying Edwards’ proclamations and declarations have the power of law. As such, local, parish and state law enforcement agencies, as well as other state authorities including The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco, and state fire marshal, will enforce the rules.
Through Monday, March 23, the Sabine and Natchitoches parish courthouses were open for business, however, a law enforcement officer was manned at the door to scan the temperature of all wanting to enter. Those exhibiting a fever were turned away. Now, through at least April 12, the courthouses are closed to the public.
Throughout the closure, said Natchitoches Parish clerk of court Dave Stamey, clerk office staff will answer the phone at 318/352-8152 some four hours a day during normal working days to handle filings. Passport, and birth and death certificate services are suspended.
Sabine Parish courthouse staff will also man the telephone throughout the closure.
Furthermore, 10th Judicial District Court in Natchitoches Parish and 11th Judicial District Court in Sabine Parish court cases are on hold. All will be notified of a new court date.
The town of Many also held a special meeting March 16 to enact precautions. As a result, the town hall closed its doors to the public through at least May 3. Staff and employees continue to work, and all town services continue as scheduled.
To protect its employees, said mayor Freeman, the temperature of each is taken as they clock in each day. Those exhibiting a fever will be immediately taken to a health facility for testing. Additionally, any ill employee will be sent home until he/she is deemed healthy to return to work. The town will incur all medical expenses of the ill employee and will pay them while quarantined. Outside maintenance working are wearing mask and gloves. There is no face to face between employee and the public, concluded Mayor Freeman.
Many residents are reminded to remit all water payments, tax payments, occupational license and ticket fines by the regular due date. Payments can be made via the drive through drop box for cash and check only, by mailing or via a credit card by calling the town hall.
Furthermore, the town of Many will not disconnect any water meters due to nonpayment until the expected May 4 reopening in an effort help contain the virus and encourage proper hygiene and handwashing.
The town also hired a professional pressure washing company to disinfect the sidewalks and store fronts in the town, as well as playground equipment in various areas around town.
Lastly, the town of Many is strictly enforcing its curfew for minors that states it is unlawful for any person under the age of 17 to be on the street between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday, and between midnight and 5 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The exception is for those minors accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The Many police will continue to patrol the streets, said mayor Ken Freeman, with phone calls to the police department automatically routed to officers’ phones.
Natchitoches City Hall also shut its doors to the public until further notice. As such employees are available by phone and email during regular business hours. Including in the restricted access is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center, said Natchitoches Mayor Lee Posey .
Also, said Mayor Posey, although the City of Natchitoches does not fall under the order of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the city will not disconnect any utility customer for non-payment during the duration of Gov. Edwards declaration of a public health emergency.
However, while no late fees will be incurred, please be mindful that utility customers will be responsible for the utility consumption during this time and should remit payment as soon as possible, concluded Mayor Posey.
The stated purpose of these rapidly changing new rules and regulations in Louisiana and across much of the U.S. is social distancing to help stop or slow down the spread of the disease. Coronavirus primarily spreads between people through respiratory droplets — think coughs, sneezes and spittle.
In addition, folks can avoid spreading their own germs by coughing into the crook of the elbow or by using a paper towel or napkin to cough into and quickly disposing of it properly. Folks also get coronavirus by touching infected surfaces, then touching their mouth, eyes or nose.
Health officials say the best way to prevent the virus is handwashing- and lots of it. Scrubbing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds kills the germs. Do this frequently before, during and after having contact with folks and surfaces, recommend health officials.
When soap isn’t available, use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol. Rub the sanitizer around your hands until it is dry. Disinfecting surfaces such as counters, doorknobs, light switches, computer keyboards and such- just think of all the things you touch every day- is advised, too.
A few days prior to Edwards stay-at-home order, Earl Lowry, of Florien, was out running errands with his wife and when he saw me, he stopped to say hello and we briefly chatted. (We kept six feet of distance between us.)
I asked Earl what he thought about the government telling us where we could not go and what we could not do. Earl said he thought it would never get to this point in the United States. He continued, “I’ve got mixed feelings about it. If it proves that it helped, then I will accept it.
However, said Lowry, “If it doesn’t prove it, then it is a government overreach.” He concluded by saying he thought President Trump was doing all he could under the circumstances.
I then headed to Brookshire’s Brothers in Many to pick up a few groceries as I shop several times a week for fresh fruits and vegetables. While the store was filled with folks, they were not in their usual mode of chatting as they stood in line to check out groceries or passed friends in the aisles.
Instead, they were quickly filling their carts to the brim with meat, eggs, milk, rice, beans, can goods and such. Many shelves were empty while others offered limited choices.
Categories: Special Feature