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Pence Heads to LA Amid Virus Surge     07/14 06:38


   BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Vice President Mike Pence travels Tuesday to 
Louisiana, which has reemerged as one of the nation's hot spots for the 
coronavirus only months after seeming to contain its outbreak.

   The Republican vice president was scheduled to meet with Louisiana Gov. John 
Bel Edwards, members of the congressional delegation and state health officials 
to talk about the state's response to the COVID-19 disease caused by the 

   Pence's visit comes as Louisiana's confirmed virus cases, percentage of 
positive tests and COVID-19 patient hospitalization rates are surging --- 
worrying public health experts about the level of virus spread in a state that 
previously appeared successful in combating its outbreak.

   "Louisiana has been on the radar, literally front and center, of the White 
House Coronavirus Task Force since the very beginning. We've never come off of 
that radar," Edwards said. "I think that's a big reason why the vice president 
chose to come to Baton Rouge and to Louisiana."

   In response to the spike in virus cases and hospitalizations, the Democratic 
governor enacted a statewide mask mandate for people ages 8 and older that took 
effect Monday. He also returned bars to take-out and delivery only. 
Restaurants, casinos, gyms, salons and other businesses remain open with 
occupancy restrictions.

   While in Baton Rouge, Pence also is planning a discussion at Louisiana State 
University's Tiger Stadium focused on fall college reopening plans and the 
future of university sports programs in the pandemic. LSU's Tigers won the 
college football national championship title in January.

   The Baton Rouge region is one of three metropolitan areas where federal 
officials recently set up new drive-thru coronavirus testing sites aimed at 
boosting testing to better track and fight the spread of COVID-19. The 
federally supported sites in Louisiana's capital city region will remain up and 
running through July 18.

   Edwards said that federal support has helped Louisiana reach more than 
304,000 virus tests so far in July --- far surpassing the state's monthly goal 
of 200,000 administered tests. Still, the Baton Rouge test sites have not drawn 
the thousands of people daily that officials hoped.

   More than 3,300 Louisiana residents have died from COVID-19, according to 
the state health department. Louisiana again has moved into the top five states 
for new virus cases per capita in recent days, adding anywhere from 1,300 to 
2,600 new cases daily over the last week.

   The sizable boost in cases can't be explained solely by increased testing, 
because the percentage of tests coming back positive is growing --- and the 
number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized is increasing as well, reaching 1,308 
people Monday.

   Louisiana has had nearly 80,000 confirmed cases since its first positive 
coronavirus test in March. Public health experts say the actual infection rate 
is likely much higher. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate 
symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. But for some, 
especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause 
more severe or fatal illness.

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