Parish and municipal officials met at the Evangeline Parish Courthouse (pictured) Monday, March 16, in the Police Jury meeting room to discuss precautionary matters as the coronavirus continues to make its way across the state. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Bracing for coronavirus
As the coronavirus continues to make its trek across the state, Governor John Bel Edwards, on Monday, put additional safety measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He limited the number of people at a gathering to 50, closed bars, casinos, and movie theaters, and limited restaurants to delivery, take out, or drive through orders.
On the same day, the Evangeline Parish Police Jury held an informal meeting with parish and municipal officials to discuss ways of keeping parish residents safe.
Police Jury President Ryan “LeDay” Williams stated the meeting was to “make everybody aware of the situation at hand.”
Williams, during the meeting, said, “Our Acadiana area has yet to have a case so far which is a blessing, and, hopefully, it stays that way. The main thing we’re doing is keeping everyone aware this is a very serious virus that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
He continued, “We will have to use all the hygiene methods we have been using to make sure we clean and sanitize everything and stay as far away from people as possible.”
As for the police jury, Williams said, “Our office will remain open, and we will try to limit the amount of people that comes in as much as possible unless it’s necessary. All of our roadcrews will continue to work and do their job throughout the parish.”
Williams said he had been in contact with Renee Brown from Mercy Regional Medical Center in regards to the hospital’s formal plan of action.
In a press release, Brown stated, “Our hearts and thoughts go out to the people who have been affected by this unprecedented event and we appreciate the healthcare workers, local communities, and governments around the world who are on the front line working to contain this coronavirus. Please know that we are vigilantly monitoring the COVID-19 situation around the clock and have precautions in place to help ensure a healthy community.”
We have no confirmed cases at this time from our facility that have tested positive with the COVID- 19. Please stay informed and follow the CDC Guidelines.”
Mercy Regional, along with Acadian Medical Center in Eunice, also advised no visitors are allowed at either of the hospitals at this time. The following exceptions will be made: laboring mom (one healthy visitor per patient), pediatric patient (one healthy visitor per patient), and end of life care.
In a statement to the Ville Platte Gazette from Savoy Medical Center, Jackie Riché said, “Savoy Medical Center continues to have communication with Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and CHRISTUS to determine the best practice for our community. The only visitor entrance is the lobby where screening will take place, a short history and temperature will be taken. If a visitor’s temperature is 99.9 or higher and/or have been on international travel or in a locale with significant COVID-19 positive (New Orleans) then you will not be allowed to visit. Savoy encourages all to adhere to the CDC recommendations such as social distancing, limit travel, cover when you cough, handwashing and self-quarantine. It will take all of us to flatten the pandemic curve of the COVID-19 virus.”
Williams, during the meeting, added the nursing homes and assisted living facilities are “limiting their access to try to mitigate anything happening associated with this virus.”
In a statement to the Gazette, Village de Memoire Community Manager Tawana Fontenot said, “We are following CDC guidelines, taking extra sanitizing measures, and postponing all programs and/or functions. We are also trying to lower the amount of traffic in and out of the property to protect our seniors as instructed by our management office.”
The following is a recap of what information other officials shared during the meeting:
Director Liz Hill
Hill went over the rumors going around Facebook such as the roads will be closed and the president will make a quarantine for the whole United States.
Hill did say residents can go to www.ldh.la.gov for up to date information regarding the coronavirus in the state.
She went on to say 911 is continuing its normal operations and that a state of emergency has been declared in the parish in case FEMA comes in with certain reimbursements.
Hill added testing for the coronavirus in the state will now be sent to the LSU lab in Baton Rouge. “CDC had to come in and double check the result,” she said, “but they lifted that. So, whatever LSU comes up with, CDS is accepting that.
Guillory, who was sworn in as an executive officer for the sheriff’s office stated the department had a teleconference Monday morning with Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc.
“We shut down all visitation,” Guillory said about the parish jail. “Nobody is going to be able to visit their loved ones in the jail at this time.”
Regarding people who go to the sheriff’s office to pay fines or taxes, Guillory said, “Depending what the volume is, we may shut that down and just accept mail-in payments only or call in with a credit card. We could possibly do that for a couple of weeks.”
Guillory also stated the sheriff’s office suspended doing fingerprints and attorneys will now be able to only contact their clients who are in the parish jail through the telephone.
The sheriff’s office will also, according to Guillory, not be transporting any prisoners “unless it’s an emergency because you’re exposing the drivers and exposing the inmates.”
He added, “We don’t want anybody to get sick especially in a confined area like the jail.”
As for the deputies on patrol, Guillory said the deputies were told to be more cautious. “Crime doesn’t stop because there is a virus,” Guillory said.
He went on to say the deputies have personal protection equipment such as gloves and may be equipped with facemasks “if it gets pretty bad.”
Guillory then said anyone entering the courthouse will be screened.
To that point, Warden Josh LaFleur said, “If you do not have a subpoena to be here or if your name is not on the docket for court, you will not be allowed in.”
“Right now,” LaFleur continued, “we’re doing the best we can to combat this and stay on top of it. We don’t want it spreading. This is a very serious disease. We haven’t seen any cases of it here, but we don’t want to see it. So, we’re taking every precaution we can.”
Later in the meeting, LaFleur said, “Right now, we are monitoring everyone coming into the jail. If they are sick or we’re not sure, we are going to require them to be brought to the emergency room to be checked first, which is a standard protocol. We’re just trying to cover as many bases as we can.”
Chief District Judge
“We cannot, by law, shut down the courthouse,” Judge Ortego said. “We have to do the best we can by filtering everybody. We can’t close down certain things, but we can limit certain things to come up.”
In a notice from the Evangeline Parish District Attorney’s Office, Assistant District Attorney Betsy Jackson stated,
“Pursuant to the order of the Louisiana Supreme Court issued on March 16, the 13th Judicial District Court and the Evangeline Parish District Attorney announce the following regarding criminal dockets scheduled on March 18 and March 19:
Revocation Docket scheduled for March 18 is cancelled until further notice.
Compulsory School Attendance Docket scheduled for March 18 is cancelled until further notice.
Criminal Docket scheduled for March 19 will proceed as follows- All individuals scheduled for arraignment must appear. All individuals scheduled to appear for Pre-Trial and Trial are excused but must appear on March 30.”
Clerk of Court
“We’re going to have to stay open because we have time constraints,” Deshotel said. “We’re just going to limit everything and be careful and sanitary as possible.”
Even though schools in the parish are closed until April 13, Superintendent Lazard stated, “we will be serving a bagged lunch. It will actually involve breakfast and lunch in the same bag.”
Superintendent Lazard stated the lunches started yesterday, March 18, and will take place at James Stephens Montessori, Mamou Elementary, Pine Prairie High School, and W.W. Stewart Elementary.
“You don’t have to attend one of those schools in order to get a lunch,” he explained. “The criteria is 18 and below. Even students from other schools can take advantage of that. We will operate under the same premise we do for the summer lunch program.”
“We closed today (Monday) at noon, and we’re closed until March 30,” Lavergne said. “We’re open for phone calls, but nobody will be coming in to the library.”
Lavergne referred residents to the library’s Website www.evangelinelibrary.org for information and assistance.
In a notice to patrons, the library said as follows:
“Given global concerns regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), we at the Evangeline Parish Library wanted to personally reach out and share the extra precautions your local library is taking to keep our patrons and employees safe.”
“We are carefully monitoring the recommendations of governmental health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local health organizations, and we have further elevated our stringent cleaning and sanitation protocol due to our lending and borrowing policy with other libraries throughout the United States.”
“Our staff will work abbreviated hours to sanitize all surfaces and all products that patrons check out and are returned in our drop boxes. This situation will be reevaluated on Friday, March 27. Additionally, we are instituting a fine free period that will run from March 16 to May 16 to make sure that patrons do not worry about overdue fees.”
“We basically stopped all public access into our office,” Duroselle said. “People can do everything they need to do online with us.”
He continued, “Everything is running as normal. We just stress we have a lot of problems with people not bagging their garbage. We don’t want the contract workers going through loose garbage. If we continue having the problem, we’re not going to pick it up unless it’s bagged.”
On behalf of Representaive Butler, Debbie Lawson reminded everyone at Monday’s meeting that the legislative “session has been cancelled for two weeks.”
On behalf of Senator Cloud, Lelia Thrasher said, “Senator Cloud and Representative Butler would like everyone to know we are in our offices, and we can help constituents and guide them to anything they might need.”
In a statement to the Gazette, Senator Cloud said the following:
“At 4 p.m. today (Monday) through concurrent resolution, the Louisiana State Legislature will call for a two week recess.”
“March 31 is the last day for filing bills, so we will convene then to introduce any new bills filed for filing bills, so we must convene. The COVID-19 situation will be reassessed, and if we need more recess time we will address it.”
“I stand behind the decision of our Senate President and House Speaker in recessing. In fact, I co-authored the bill. Right now this decision is more about slowing our case trajectory and being very mindful of the states healthcare capacity.”
“The rate of new cases is doubling every three days, as compared to Italy who is in an awful shape with over 15k cases. Their cases were doubling every five days. In an effort to slow the spread, we must practice social distancing and the frequent washing of hands.”
“I am completely confident that the spread of the virus will slow and that our people will continue to be as resilient as ever! A great concern of mine is the impact on families, businesses, and our states economy. These are trying times. Our oil and gas sector is taking a hard hit right now with the price per barrel plummeting because of price wars between Saudi Arabia and Russia.”
“Our treasured small businesses are in crisis mode as their doors are closing. Families are struggling for child care solutions.”
“My heart is so heavy, but I know that this too shall pass! There is One who is not deaf and blind to our situations. As He cares for the sparrows of the air and dresses the lilies of the field so beautifully, how much more does He care about you! Let us follow safe protocols and remain prayerful.”
Ville Platte Mayor
“City Hall is open,” Mayor Vidrine said, “but we are closed to the public. If anyone wants to make a payment, they can use the drive-thru window or the payment box or can mail in their payments. For people wanting work permits, they have to come to the drive-thru window, and the personnel will come from the back and address their situation.”
She continued, “We are suspending the disconnection if utilities. We won’t be cutting anybody off until further notice to show compassion and sanitation because people need to wash their hands. We want to make sure everybody has water to do that.”
Employees at city hall, according to the mayor, are also practicing social distancing.
“We’re just erring on the side of safety,” she said. “It’s better safe than sorry. I know it’s an inconvenience for some, but I rather be inconvenienced than dead.”
Later in the meeting, Mayor Vidrine added the city is “postponing or cancelling” any event at any of the civic centers until June.
“They can have their deposit back if they cancel,” the mayor stated. “If this gets worse, it might be all the way through July or August because, as a public body, we cannot rent the centers if they are going to have more than 50 or 10 people, whichever the number is going to be.”
The mayor echoed her previous statement by saying, “I know it’s an inconvenience, but, again, consider the alternative.”
Police Chief Lartigue expressed, “We shut down all visitation to the jail. We will only allow office staff inside the building. We will try to handle all calls through the window or over the phone.”
“As for the officers,” he continued, “they will continue to respond as normal to the calls they receive, and we just are going to hope and pray everything turns out alright.”
Ville Platte Fire Chief
Fire Chief Harrison expressed, “We have gloves and sanitizers on most of our vehicles.”
He added, “We can’t pick and choose our emergencies. All we can do is try to stay safe, stay away from fluids, and wear our masks and gloves.
Mayor Fontenot stated the town hall in Mamou will remain open.
“We haven’t really thought about the ballpark yet,” he said, “but I’m sure I will get with some of these leagues and figure out what we’re going to do. We may just shut down.”
He went on to say, “We’re continuing business as usual until we do anything differently.”
Mamou Police Chief
“We’re making sure our guys have hand sanitizers available,” Chief Zackery said.
Mamou Fire Chief
“We met with our firefighters and went over the procedures on what to do,” the fire chief said. “We set up a few rules where we have to check ourselves out.”
He continued, “Our main priority is the safety of our firefighters. If we go down, we can’t help anybody else. We’re just trying to respond as we normally do, and we’re just going to be more cautious.”
Pine Prairie Mayor
Mayor West explained the Dixie Youth baseball teams in Pine Prairie have suspended games, on their own, until April 4. “I believe,” he said, “it’s probably going to be extended.”
He added, “The Dixie girls are going to shut down completely. There will be no practicing or anything like that. We have to look out for our citizens.”
At the end of the meeting, Williams concluded, “We’re trying to make the public aware this is real and to use as much hygiene and sanitation as possible.”