Louisiana seeks funding for National Guard virus response

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards is questioning why Louisiana must pay a portion of the costs to use the state's National Guard in coronavirus response work if the federal government is picking up the full tab in some other states.

The Democratic governor sent a letter Friday to President Donald Trump, asking that the federal government continue to cover all costs of activating the Louisiana National Guard as it did earlier this year. If Louisiana has to pay a 25% cost share through December, that would cost the state $2.5 million a month, Edwards said.

Louisiana is using 1,100 members of the National Guard to staff virus testing sites, support food bank operations and distribute protective equipment to hospitals, schools and other locations.

In prior months of the coronavirus outbreak, Louisiana had full federal funding for the activation. But Trump changed the reimbursement terms in the latest authorization for Louisiana to use its National Guard in coronavirus response.

Edwards said at least two other states — Texas and Florida — received similar extensions for their National Guard activation, but with full federal funding to cover the costs.

“There is not a rational basis to distinguish Louisiana from those two states,” Edwards told reporters.

In his letter to the president, Louisiana's governor said his state has seen more coronavirus cases and deaths per capita than Texas and Florida.

More than 128,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Louisiana, which has 4.6 million residents, and the state health department said 4,089 people have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.

Meanwhile, the Edwards administration successfully persuaded a Livingston Parish judge Friday to temporarily shut down a Denham Springs barbecue restaurant that refuses to follow the governor's statewide mask mandate for its workers or its patrons.

The temporary restraining order sought by the state health department and issued by state District Judge Brenda Bedsole Ricks prohibits Firehouse BBQ from operating, at least until an Aug. 18 court hearing into the owners' disobeying Edwards' statewide order.

Edwards called the business's refusal to require face coverings "extremely reckless and irresponsible.”

“It was my hope that the action today would not be necessary, but we are left with no choice as the owner insists on being non-compliant, thus jeopardizing the safety of the employees and customers,” the governor said in a statement.

Despite Edwards' statewide order requiring face coverings, Firehouse BBQ posted on its Facebook site in July that customers and employees “are given the option to wear a mask or not. It is not mandated in our store." The business called it “an illegal mandate" and continued operating after the state revoked its food permit.

The judge's restraining order comes a day after a separate judge in Baton Rouge district court upheld the mask mandate and other restrictions Edwards has enacted to try to lessen the spread of the coronavirus.

Also in the Baton Rouge region, the Zachary school district announced that it will delay the reopening of its schools because of the pandemic, after officials said nearly 20 teachers were infected with or exposed to the coronavirus and other staff members quit ahead of the year’s start.

The Zachary Community School Board voted unanimously Thursday to postpone its first day of classes to Aug. 17, news outlets reported. Instruction was originally set to begin Aug. 10 under a hybrid model, with part in-person and part virtual learning.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

___

Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.