Special Feature

What does the new normal look like for Natchitoches and Sabine parishes in the near future and beyond? | Around The Town

New Normal
by staff reporter Nora Drenner

Will the lockdown ever end? Has the local, state, and federal governments response to the COVID-19 pandemic been worse than the virus itself ? What will life look life after the pandemic wanes?
Just like those across the nation and state, these are the questions folks are asking in Natchitoches and Sabine parishes.
Coronavirus quickly changed the day- to -day life of those in Sabine and Natchitoches parishes as folks responded in March to the new standards deemed necessary to fight the spread of the virus.
There were no reported cases of coronavirus in Louisiana at the beginning of March. A week later there were nearly100 statewide with most cases in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
On March 13, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a proclamation that closed all public schools statewide starting March 16, due to the spread of COVID-19. The initial expected re-opening date was April 13, however, at the request of members of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) board, Gov. John Bel Edwards is keeping K-12 public school facilities closed statewide for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Most Louisiana school superintendents agreed with the closure.
And, in an effort to keep students fed both parishes have set up food service programs. Parents in Natchitoches Parish are reminded their children 18 years old and younger can still receive prepackaged breakfast and lunch meals. Pick up times are Tuesday and Thursday from 9 to 10: 30 a.m. Parents can drive through for pick-up, or children can walk to the feeding site.
Pick up sites on Tuesday and Thursday are Cloutierville, East, Magnet, Marthaville, Provencal and Vaughn schools, as well as Martin Luther King Recreational Center, Kingdom Life Center, Christian Outreach Center, Restoration Apostolic Ministries, Village of Clarence Town Hall, and Village of Natchez Town Hall. Creston Baptist Church offers meals for five days on Tuesdays only.
Officials say some 12,000 Natchitoches Parish students are being fed through the program. For more information, email surequestions@nat.k12.la.us
In Sabine Parish students are fed through the Meals to You program, a partnership between the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Louisiana Department of Education.

According to school officials some 3,000 students throughout Sabine Parish are signed up to receive 10 meals – five breakfasts and five lunches- weekly. The shelf-stable, easy-to-prep kid friendly meals are delivered by mail.
Soon after schools were initially closed, Sabine Police Jury President Mike McCormic and Sabine Parish Homeland Security and Office of Emergency Preparedness Director David Davis declared a state of emergency, as did Natchitoches Parish President John Richmond, Many Mayor Ken Freeman and Natchitoches Mayor Lee Posey.
And on March 23, a statewide stay at home order went into effect which required all to limit exposure to others and themselves by only leaving for essentials such as work, groceries, medications, and emergencies.
Non-essential businesses such as retail, salons, tattoo shops, movie theaters, amusement parks, concert halls, casinos, parks, and churches were shuttered. Gathering of more than 10 folks were prohibited, and restaurants were limited to take out only.
At that time, the number of COVID-19 cases in the state had grown to more than 800 and a few days later confirmed cases had jumped to 1,172.
Curfews for minors were also being strictly enforced in both parishes, and eventually the town of Many imposed a curfew for all, as did the city and parish of Natchitoches.
COVID-19 first appeared in China in mid- Dec.2019. A month later, the first U.S. case was confirmed in Washington state—a man who had recently returned from a visit to family living in China– and on March 9 Louisiana verified its first case.
As of press time on April 23, there were 25,739 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. And, a total of 1,747 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized with 274 of those requiring ventilation. Total confirmed deaths were 1,540 and 59 probable COVID-19 deaths which are identified by coroners and/or physicians as suspected/possible COVID-19 deaths without a positive lab result. The number of probable COVID-19 deaths change as pending test results turn out positive or negative.
Additionally, as of press time, Sabine Parish confirmed cases total 14 with no confirmed deaths and one probable death; Natchitoches Parish cases total 62 with one death.
Surrounding parishes cases are as follows: Vernon Parish cases are 14 with one death, Rapides Parish cases are 220 with eight deaths, Red River Parish cases are 22 with four deaths, Caddo Parish cases are 1,389 with 85 deaths, Bossier Parish cases are 255 with 12 deaths, Bienville Parish 69 cases and 12 deaths, Desoto Parish cases are 176 with 10 deaths, and Winn Parish cases are 19 with two deaths.
Nationwide, positive cases total 834,340 with 42,501 deaths and 142,624 recovered.
President Trump n April 17 issued a set of federal guidelines for restarting the economy, but said it would be up to state governors to decide when and how to ease state lockdowns.
Gov. Edwards said Tuesday, April 21, he would probably lift some restrictions currently mandated by his stay-at-home order set to expire April 30, however, he warned folks life would not return to the normal they experienced prior to the covid-19 pandemic.
“I don’t bet very often, but if you made me bet $1, I would bet on May 1 we’d be under a different order than we’re under now,” Edwards said.
“But that really does depend on what happens over the next week or so because we have to make sure we have those 14 days where our trajectory is where we want it as it relates to cases and as it relates to hospital capacity.”
He continued, “But I don’t want people to have unrealistic expectations when the stay-at-home order goes away whether it’s May 1 or not, that everything will go back to the way it was.”
The governor said if some restrictions are lifted, there would be requirements such as continued social distancing, wearing masks and crowd size limits.
On Wednesday, March 22, Edwards called on all Louisianans to mask up as the new norm when going out in public until there is vaccine for coronavirus. Gov. Edwards noted the media would be required to wear a mask when entering his press conferences.
During a recent video and phone conferencing Natchitoches City Council meeting, Mayor Lee Posey encouraged residents to keep doing what they were doing regarding social distancing and hand washing. “We are headed in the right direction,” said Mayor Posey. “Don’t touch your face and get tested if you have symptoms.” He also commented “All leaders in Natchitoches were in agreement the curfew needed to happen.” Most are complying, he noted, however, a few citations had been issued in recent days.”
Natchitoches Parish President John Richmond also commented during a recent video and phone conferencing council meeting. “The curfew is still in place,” said Richmond, “and we are going to get rid of it as quickly as we can.” Richmond also noted all local government offices continue to operate at full capacity with employees working at home when appropriate. Additionally, said Richmond, courthouse staff are staggering hours and other offices are reconfigured to comply with social distancing regulations.
As of press time, Natchitoches officials said there were no plans to relax current local regulations due to COVID-19.
In Sabine Parish, Police Jury President Mike McCormic said on April 23 that he plans to let the proclamation that closed short term rentals through April 29 to expire. McCormic said owners are being contacted so they can start taking reservations.
The second proclamation regarding social distancing regulations for check-out lines and aisles for employees and customers in businesses would likely be extended through May, said McCormic. That proclamation also requires mandatory isolation for those who test positive for COVID-19, those who have symptoms and those who have been exposed to the virus. McCormic noted the second proclamation could be rescinded earlier depending on what Gov Edwards does.
Many Mayor Ken Freeman said he expects the town board to lift the current curfew on May 4. Mayor Freeman also said it was time for the community, state, and nation to get back to normal.
Mayor Freeman went on to say, “There is no greater threat to our national security and public health than a failing economy. The collapse of our economy is more dangerous than the virus itself.”
Mayor Freeman concluded by saying he understood COVID-19 is a new disease and it was necessary to err on the side of caution, however, now that he know more about the disease and how it is spread, it is time for all to get back to work and live their lives.
“People need to take responsibility for their health,” said Freeman, “by social distancing, washing their hands frequently, and staying home when sick.”

Categories: Special Feature

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