After all this time, most of the news (around here, anyway) still seems to be about COVID-19. To take one example, at this very time, lots of Louisianans can’t help but be thinking about the end of July, when the extra $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits is set to expire. Nola.com and an Advocate report says that the Paycheck Protection Program that is helping businesses keep workers on the payroll will also mostly be tapped out by that date.
Without the extension, unemployment benefits in the state will max out at $247 a week, or roughly $1,000 a month. What could you do for $1,000 a month? Could you pay rent, utilities, food costs?
Louisiana’s labor secretary Ava Dejoie recently amped up anxiety in the state when she announced that since mid-March, Louisiana’s unemployment trust fund has paid out more than $2.85 billion in claims. Because of this high level of expenditure, said Dejoie, Louisiana unemployment “could go bankrupt.”
Where The People With Masks Are
Robert Mann, longtime journalism professor at LSU and newspaper columnist, must have been thinking the same thing I have: where are all the people who are wearing masks? And he lives in Baton Rouge — a “hot spot.”
Anyway, on June 16, he Tweeted: “Everywhere I’ve been in Baton Rouge the past two days — the most I’ve been out in two months — few people were wearing a mask. I feel a big second wave coming in a few weeks around these parts.”
A few days before this, I was obliged to go to the post office in downtown Lake Charles to pick up a package. I walked through the front door and all of a sudden it hit me: “This is the place where all the people who wear masks go.”
All the post office staff behind the counter had on masks and gloves. There was also a protective sheet of plexiglass in front of them. About half the people waiting in line were wearing masks. (The signs in the building said everybody in line was supposed to be wearing a mask. But it’s not a perfect world. I’ve often noticed it.)
All this was in dramatic contrast to the groups of people I’ve seen walking in tight clusters as they enter local restaurants or stores. Of course, I can’t know whether these restaurants or stores are following safety measures. But even if they are, they can only protect you while you’re on their premises.
If a Louisiana business is making at least some effort to follow the safety measures, it may be hard to collect civil damages if you think you contracted COVID from the business.
In the Louisiana Legislature’s June session, it passed House Bill 826, which states that no individual or government will be liable for civil damages from exposure to COVID-19 in the course of business unless there is evidence of gross negligence and the business was not in substantial compliance with applicable safety procedures.
So, the bottom line is, if you go into a place and things don’t look right, you might want to head back out. This may be one of those situations in which it won’t help to call one of those lawyers with the billboards promising to take care of all your accidents, toxic exposure and injuries.
How Long ‘Til The End Of 2020?
In a Tweet, KPLC-TV’s Ben Terry pointed how many days were left until we reached milestones in the winding down of 2020, the year everyone’s learned to hate. “I know we’re all looking forward to the end of 2020,” wrote Terry. According to his calculations, as of June 16, there were 165 days until Thanksgiving; 169 days until the end of hurricane season; 192 days until Christmas; and 198 days until the end of 2020. Did he write 198 days? That’s well over half the year.
Lafayette’s Economic Hit
I haven’t yet seen any facts and figures about how COVID-19 has affected the SWLA economy. But over in Lafayette, Ben Berthelot, executive director of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, provided some precise info about the virus’ effect on the city’s tourism and hospitality industry.
Berthelot said that as of June 15, Lafayette tourism and hospitality had lost $51 million due to COVID-19. He said this figure doesn’t include funds lost due to the cancellation of Festival International.
Berthelot also provided the interesting statistic that 52 percent of Lafayette unemployment claims were filed by people working in food service or accommodations.
LSU: U.S. COVID May Be Mutation
Some researchers at LSU have determined that the strain of COVID-19 that’s infecting the United States and Europe may be a “new and improved” virus that mutated from the original strain that came from Wuhan in China.
Professor Lucio Miele, who is head of genetics at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, stated that the conclusion is based on a new study from the Scripps Research Institute. This reports a newly discovered mutation to the virus’ “spike protein gene.” (The “spikes” are the many red protrusions you see in illustrations of COVID-19 cells.) This newly discovered mutation makes the virus more “stable and abundant.”
The upshot, says Miele, is that “the virus here [in the U.S.] is much more infectious.”
He adds that in the version of the virus that has taken off in America “infected cells become virus factories, producing more and more virus. The more viruses are made, the higher the likelihood of new mutations that make the virus even better at spreading or more resistant to treatment.”
Miele claims that researchers will have to sequence the virus’ genome to determine how it is mutating. Once that is done, the results can be used to develop vaccines and other treatments. Sounds like a lot of work for somebody.
Judicial First In Cameron?
It’s obvious that unexpected developments pop up in court cases from time to time. But as vivid as my imagination is, I never supposed that a DA would be bounced because of a painting of a unicorn.
We’re lucky it happened in Cameron, because if it had been anywhere else, we probably never would have heard about it.
Cameron District Attorney Jennifer Jones was set to prosecute Eric Lemay, who is charged with the sexual abuse of a 10-year-old girl. The story goes that DA Jones was talking with the young victim and that sometime in the course of the conversation, Jones showed the girl a picture of a unicorn that Jones had painted. The child is said to have indicated that she would like to have a painting like that.
So the DA went home; painted another painting of a unicorn; and mailed it to the little girl.
This turn of events was not pleasing to Judge Penelope Richard, who recused DA Jones from the case. Apparently the unicorn painting was not the only gift Jones handed out. For example, she also bought a laptop for the victim’s mother. And she ate meals with the mother and daughter.
Defense attorney Ginger Vidrine said, “When you take all of those things together, you start to see that the district attorney has developed a personal interest in this case that eliminates her ability to act in a way that’s fair and impartial …”
DA Jones said she can’t talk about a case that’s pending. But she also said she would appeal the recusal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. The story was reported by Theresa Schmidt on KPLC-TV.
This is a good practical lesson for all of us. We need to be very careful about what we do with our unicorn paintings.
COVID Aid For The Arts
Between May 8 and June 8, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities provided $484,548 for organizations in the arts and humanities that had incurred losses or expenses from the COVID-19 quarantine. Southwest Louisiana got its share, with the following funds going to the following recipients:
Arts & Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana $5,000
Imperial Calcasieu Mardi Gras Museum $3,000
Imperial Calcasieu Museum $7,000
Zigler Art Museum (Jefferson Davis Parish) $10,000.