Local state rep discusses mask mandate, COVID-19 numbers and petition to void governor’s emergency orders

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National Hurricane Center keeping an eye on 3 different areas
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Officers investigating shooting at Sonic in Houma
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National Hurricane Center keeping an eye on 3 different areas
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State Representative Beryl Amedée recently spoke with the Times: giving her opinions on the recent statewide mask mandate by Gov. John Bel Edwards, COVID-19 numbers and petition that would void the governor’s COVID-19 emergency orders. 


Amedée, who represents Assumption, Lafourche, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes, said she wears a face mask “as little as possible” and only enough to try to comply with mandates to not get into any legal trouble. 


One example, she gave, was when she went to the recent House Committee on Education meeting. “I did not wear a mask because I was going as an elected official; I was required to be there,” she said. “It’s the Capitol building; it belongs to the people — a very public building.” 


However, when Amedée recently went to a Lafourche Parish Council meeting on Tuesday and St. Mary Chamber of Commerce luncheon, she did wear a mask.  “And that was because I was…going into someone else’s building,” she said. “…Out of respect for them, I didn’t want them to feel like they were obligated to confront me.” 


“For me, it’s one of those things where I don’t mind wearing a mask briefly out of respect for the facility where I’m going, especially if it’s a private business because, you know, a private business could ask for their customers to wear a mask, whether there’s a mandate or not,” she later added. 


If there was no statewide mandate and the coronavirus was still present, she would not wear a mask, Amedée said. “But if a business still wanted to require it, I would just choose whether or not I needed their product or their service enough to put on a mask to do business there,” she continued. “I would possibly choose to do business elsewhere because I would feel that this is above and beyond what’s necessary.” 


The science is not settled yet on masks, Amedée added before noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its recommendations and guidelines for mask-wearing a couple of times this year alone. 


In addition to the science not being settled on the use of masks, Amedée said she is also opposed to the governor’s statewide mask mandate because it was done by a single person “who does not have the authority to create law.” 


“So even if we want to have some sort of a mandate, it really should go through the legislative process — where people who are elected to be the voices of the people can discuss, and debate and set guidelines and policies through that process,” she continued. 


There have been no discussions or debates, Amedée added, just “mandates handed down in a dictatorship style.” 


She also questioned the COVID-19 numbers. In many cases, individuals that are COVID-19 positive and have retested positive are being added as another positive on the coronavirus count, according to Amedée.


The state representative continued: “So if you have 100 positives in a given parish today, we don’t really know how many of those are individuals and how many of those are tests.” 


The coronavirus numbers were debated last week, following a statement by the Red River Parish Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness — claiming that the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) reported the parish’s positive count at 96, when it was really at 58, because of multiple tests for the same positive individuals.


During Gov. Edwards’ COVID-19 update on Thursday, Dr. Alexander Billioux, an LDH official, said the reports of repeated cases are not credible and that it was a “misunderstanding on [Red River’s] part.” 


However, according to Amedée, it is happening. “My coroners and my OEC directors that I speak to are telling me: yes, the numbers come to them and they include both,” she said. 


When Amedée talked to the Times on Friday, she said she reached out to Earl Eues, Director of Terrebonne Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, earlier in the week to inquire about the numbers. He said he was looking into it and preparing a report, according to Amedée. 


The death rates are skewed too, Amedée noted, saying that the CDC is requiring “virtually every death you possibly can connect to COVID, in any way, to be counted as a COVID death.” 


“Therefore, if someone dies this week through a traffic accident, if that person tested positive for COVID six weeks ago, CDC tends to count that death as a COVID death,” she continued. 


A petition has been circulating the state House that would lift all of the governor’s orders under the COVID-19 state of emergency, such as the business restrictions and mask mandate, among others. 


“According to state statutes, if either the House or the Senate comes up with a majority of members who signed a petition, the governor’s emergency orders could be overturned, and they would simply be made void — according to the terms of the petition,” said Amedée, who supported the petition early on. 


The petition would prohibit the governor from issuing any additional health emergency orders related to the coronavirus for a period of 60 days, following the date it was filed, Amedée explained. The governor would still have the ability to issue any other emergency orders, in the event of a hurricane or other non-COVID outbreak or any other public emergency, she noted. 


The petition needs 53 signatures, and last she heard, the number of signatures is in the forties, Amedée said. 


Edwards called the petition “nonsensical” and “irresponsible,” around the time it was drafted, before noting Louisiana would be the only state in the nation without an emergency declaration for COVID-19. 


“Silly is not the right word,” Edwards said. “It would be profoundly regrettable.”


According to a recent report by the Advocate, Scott Wester, CEO of the Our of Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, urged his employees to ask state representatives and senators to not support the petition, saying it “would have devastating impacts on our health system.” 


Amedée said state legislators have been in regular communication with healthcare workers. “The people that we speak to…I don’t think that they care — one way or the other — whether the emergency orders are lifted or not. They’re more concerned with being able to treat patients and in the areas where there may be lots and lots of COVID patients coming in for care.”


The petition only removes the statewide orders, allowing parish and city governments to issue any particular orders they feel are necessary, Amedée said. 


Another concern that’s been brought up is the potential loss of federal funding if the public health emergency order is lifted. 


“Any funding that we have already qualified for is not going to be taken from us if the emergency orders end tomorrow,” Amedée said. “Could ending the emergency order affect future funding? Well, nobody can really predict the future.” 


“What we can say is: the president himself issued a nationwide declaration early on, and he said the purpose of issuing the nationwide declaration was so that states could qualify for relief due to COVID, even if the state did not issue a state emergency declaration,” she continued. “It looks to me like even if we end the current emergency declaration — that whatever federal relief is coming or even will come for COVID-19 — we would still qualify for under the national emergency declaration.” 


When asked if the governor’s emergency measures have helped slow the spread of the coronavirus, Amedée said: “We really don’t know because even the numbers we’ve been given so far are not real numbers.” 


Medical professionals have learned better ways to treat the virus since the beginning of the outbreak in Louisiana in March, she also noted. 


The purpose of the restrictions was to keep medical facilities from being overwhelmed so that patients would get care, Amedée said. “The focus was not on keeping people from dying from COVID; it was keeping people from dying from COVID because they couldn’t get medical care.” 


“This is a virus. It’s here; it’s with us. It’s going to be with us. People are going to catch it,” she added. “We’re already better at learning how to treat it, and we cannot just live the way that we’ve been expected to live permanently.”