On Sunday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” with host Jake Tapper to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Tapper first asked Edwards to explain to him the issues with ventilator supplies in the state.
“Your model’s current projection shows that New Orleans could reach 2,500 new hospitalizations per day at its peak around the end of April,” Tapper said. “You said on Friday that you could theoretically run out of ventilators on Tuesday. Is Louisiana really just 48 hours away from Louisianians dying from coronavirus because you don’t have enough ventilators?”
Edwards replied, first noting that people are already dying. According to the models, which reportedly shift each day as new data is gathered, the expected date at which ventilator capacity will be exceeded is now “probably around the 9th of April,” Edwards said.
The governor then stressed the importance of slowing the spread via social distancing:
So, as we achieve success in slowing the rate of spread, we also push out that date. And critically important is the number of people who will present to the hospital and not be able to get a vent or a bed is a smaller number. So, we’re encouraging everyone in Louisiana to take social distancing, the stay-at-home order, very seriously because that’s how we’re going to save people’s lives at the end of the day.
Later in the segment, Tapper brought up Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana.
“Even though [Spell] was issued a misdemeanor summons for continuing to hold church services, Pastor Spell told CNN just today that he’s still planning on holding church services this morning,” Tapper said. “Obviously, this is a dire health threat. You have made that very clear to all of the people in Louisiana. Should police break up this large gathering that violates your executive order?”
Governor Edwards responded, saying “we’re not going to enforce our way out of this.”
He continued, calling it “grossly irresponsible” for large groups to congregate:
Now, I’m still calling upon him to be a leader. He is a leader in the faith community – and I’m calling upon those parishioners to not go, because it is grossly irresponsible. There is not a setting more conducive to the spread of the virus, as far as I know … like we have when we have church services with people sitting in close proximity to one another for an hour or two at a time. And so it is irresponsible. Obviously, he is violating the order. He has been served a summons on that. I would hope that he would stop. And law enforcement has this very much in their sights. And I support the actions that they’re taking.
Edwards pivoted to praise those who are following social distancing guidelines, telling Tapper that the “overwhelming majority” of Louisiana’s 4,500 churches are doing their part, as are businesses.
“I’m appealing to Pastor Spell to do the right thing,” Edwards stated. “And thus far, he has not. It’s very disappointing. But the vast majority of pastors out there are doing the right thing.”
Louisiana Democrat Governor John Bel Edwards says it is “grossly irresponsible” to hold church services right now pic.twitter.com/pbRPUwHMK4
— (((Jason Rantz))) on KTTH Radio (@jasonrantz) April 6, 2020
During an interview with CNN on Sunday, Pastor Tony Spell said that Life Tabernacle had hosted 1,800 congregants last Sunday, and would hold services again this Sunday. Spell added that Christians have “a command from God” to “assemble together.”
When asked by anchor Victor Blackwell if keeping the doors to the church open was a “pro-life” position, Spell replied:
My response to that is people’s hope is in the house of God. If they do contract the virus, if they have fears of the virus, the church is more essential now than ever to pray with people, to let them know there is a balm in Gilead. There is a physician in Jesus Christ. He is the healer. He said, “Come unto me, all you that are wearing heavy laden, let me give you rest.” So, we were supposed to be at a million and a half body bags. We’re at 8,400. So, the narrative is false, Victor.
In a Facebook post about the “misdemeanor summons” issued to Spell, Central Police Department Chief Roger Corcoran stated in part: “Instead of showing the strength and resilience of our community during this difficult time, Mr. Spell has chosen to embarrass us for his own self-promotion.”
“Mr. Spell will have his day in court where he will be held responsible for his reckless and irresponsible decisions that endangered the health of his congregation and our community,” Corcoran continued. “This is not an issue over religious liberty, and it’s not about politics. We are facing a public health crisis and expect our community’s leaders to set a positive example and follow the law.”
As of Saturday, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has seen 656 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 22 deaths, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) Global Cases map. The virus has infected more than 335,500 Americans, leading to 9,458 deaths.