BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s governor planned to postpone the state’s presidential primaries due to fears of the coronavirus, an aide said Friday, which would make it the first state to do so.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards planned to sign an executive order delaying the April 4 primary until June 20, said his spokeswoman Christina Stephens.
“We are experiencing community spread of coronavirus in Louisiana, and the governor is taking decisive action to slow its progress,” Stephens said on Twitter.
Louisiana also postponed elections in 2005 after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and in 2008 after hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Early voting in Louisiana’s election was scheduled to start in a week. But with a large number of elderly poll workers and worldwide concerns about people gathering in groups, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who asked Edwards to sign the executive order, said he didn’t feel comfortable continuing with the election plans.
“This weighty decision has been made out of an absolute abundance of caution for Louisiana’s voters, voting officials and the general public as a whole,” said Ardoin, a Republican.
As of Friday, the number of residents testing positive in the state had jumped to 33, centered largely in the New Orleans area, according to the state health department’s latest figures. The positive tests are awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of parishes with infected residents has grown to eight, with most of those in the New Orleans area, but one case has been identified in northwest Louisiana, in Caddo Parish.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Most people recover within weeks.
Edwards has declared a public health emergency for the state. State prisons have suspended visitation for 30 days, and hospitals and nursing homes are limiting visitor access, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to vulnerable populations.
As they were around the country, events in Louisiana were being canceled. The Southern University System joined the Louisiana State University System and several New Orleans universities in moving all of its classes online. The Louisiana Legislature, only one week into its three-month session, began working on contingency plans for must-pass bills, such as the budget, in case lawmakers decide to end the session early.
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