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Council talks COVID as local cases increase

LAPLACE — As COVID-19 in St. John the Baptist Parish exceeded 2,800 cases, Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said she is continuing to monitor the data weekly with her priority remaining protecting the health and safety of all residents.

Responding to a question from Councilwoman Tonia Schnyder during a virtual council meeting this past Tuesday night, Hotard said she is following the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals guidelines as well as recommendations from Gov. John Bel Edwards. In response to Schnyder’s question about the potential of moving back to Phase 1, Hotard said the parish is continuing to follow the state’s modified Phase 2 guidelines. 

As of Jan. 15, the parish had recorded 2,839 COVID-19 cases with 116 deaths.

Schnyder said her constituents have expressed concerns regarding bars and restaurants not adhering to social distancing or masking protocols. She asked if the parish still has a task force monitoring local establishments and how can residents report violations.

Cain Dufrene, chief of operations for St. John Fire Services, said when a complaint is received, his office visits the establishment in question, reminding the owner of the guidelines. But he said if it becomes apparent the business will not follow the protocols, the state fire marshal’s office will be notified.

“They work on a two-strike rule,” he said of the state office, explaining that a business could potentially have its license revoked after a second violation.

When questioned about cases reported among parish workers, Hotard said she did not think it would be appropriate to get into a situation that would violate the HIPAA rights of any employees. She added the parish has worked closely with Ochsner to navigate the unchartered waters of the pandemic.

She said whenever a potential exposure risk arises, the parish engages Ochsner, because protocols are changing so frequently.

The parish president noted that temperature check stations are located at the side entrance of the government complex, which is the employee entrance, the main entrance and several buildings throughout the parish, including the Emergency Operations Center.

Hotard did say that COVID-19 vaccine shots for those eligible are now available at Medicine Shoppe and Walgreen’s, both in LaPlace.

However, she warned residents who do receive the vaccine not to feel “a false sense of security,” and urged residents to continue to be vigilant in following safety protocols.

In other news, six of the parish’s 42 canals have been designated for dredging, with surveys have already been completed on the Woodland, Vicknair and Haydel canals. Engineer consultant Joseph Savoie said the estimated combined cost of dredging those three canals is $1.7 million.

Hotard said those three canals were prioritized because they impact several areas of the parish, and monies have been already been set aside through grants and previous bond issues.

She said a bond issue, which she hopes to present to the voters later this year, will be needed to complete all of the projects.

In another matter, the council voted to table a proposed ordinance implementing a recognition program for renaming public streets and property. The proposed ordinance was a follow-up to a December meeting when the council voted down an ordinance to add the nomenclature “Christina Marie Green Davis” to the existing Melius Drive in Reserve.

Council members agreed that Davis represents the epitome of who deserves having a street named in her honor but several members were concerned about some of the regulations in the proposed ordinance. Additionally, some council members expressed a desire to hold a workshop to receive public input.