New Orleans officials say they are strongly recommending that people resume wearing masks indoors as the city experiences a surge of new COVID-19 cases to levels not seen in monthsBy KEVIN McGILL Associated PressJuly 21, 2021, 10:41 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNEW ORLEANS — With the daily average of new COVID-19 cases surging to numbers not seen in months, New Orleans officials issued an advisory Wednesday “strongly recommending” people resume wearing masks indoors, hoping to avoid the kind of virus-related shutdowns that devastated the city’s tourism economy in 2020.Mayor LaToya Cantrell stopped short Wednesday of requiring mask wearing. She said the advisory being issued “puts the responsibility on individuals themselves,” rather than having the city enforce a mandate.The announcement came as the city posted figures showing the surge, driven by the highly contagious delta variant, has pushed the seven-day average of new cases reported in the city to 117, the highest since early February. It had fallen as low as eight in mid-June but began climbing sharply in early July.Also Wednesday, Louisiana’s health department reported a new case count of 5,388, the third highest since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since June 19.Dr. Jennifer Avegno, New Orleans’ health director, and Dr. Emily Nichols, head of the city’s emergency medical services, said the increase in cases has led to a shortage of health care workers. “Our beds are filling up, our providers are working long, hard hours,” Nichols said.The new measures come even as the city boasts a higher vaccination rate than the rest of Louisiana, which lags much of the nation. Wednesday’s statistics show more than 55% of the city’s population has gotten one vaccination shot, with nearly 51% fully vaccinated, numbers comparable to national figures.But city officials say the rate is still too low. And with the state’s rate down around 36% — and tourists visiting from areas that may not have high rates — officials said it is imperative that more city residents get vaccinated.Restrictions on gatherings and mask requirements have been greatly eased in recent months as vaccines became widely available.New Orleans had been a Southern hot spot for COVID-19 early in 2020. Mitigation measures saw the city shut down bars, dine-in restaurants and numerous other businesses vital to the tourist-driven economy. Restrictions spilled over into this year, when major Mardi Gras events were canceled. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which was canceled in 2020, this year was postponed from its usual spring dates until this fall.As city officials made their announcement Wednesday, Warner Thomas, President and CEO of Ochsner Health, said at a separate news conference that 313 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized across that system, which has facilities around Louisiana. Most were unvaccinated, he said.That number is up from 74 four weeks ago, he said, adding that the number of “breakthrough” cases among vaccinated people has risen.“A month ago we might have seen five breakthrough cases a day with none admitted to a hospital. Today we’re seeing about 50 breakthrough cases, with five admitted to a hospital.”———Associated Press reporter Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.———Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.
NEW ORLEANS, La. — Edwin Washington Edwards, the high-living four-term governor whose three-decade dominance of Louisiana politics was all but overshadowed by scandal and an eight-year federal prison stretch, died Monday. He was 93.Edwards died of respiratory problems with family and friends by his bedside, family spokesman Leo Honeycutt said. He had suffered bouts of ill health in recent years and entered hospice care this month at his home in Gonzales, near the Louisiana capital.“I have lived a good life, had better breaks than most, had some bad breaks, too, but that’s all part of it. I tried to help as many people as I could and I hope I did that, and I hope, if I did, that they will help others, too. I love Louisiana and I always will,” Edwards said in some of his last words, according to Honeycutt’s statement.Earlier in the week, the former governor also said, “I’ve made no bones that I have considered myself on borrowed time for 20 years and we each know that all this fun has to end at some point.” For him, that time was shortly after daybreak this morning, the statement said.Edwards, the “Cajun King,” was known for delivering a steady supply of memorable one-liners as well as for his deft political instincts. Infamously, the lifelong Democrat said once said that the only way he could lose a race against a particularly lackluster Republican was if he were “caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”A native of Louisiana’s Acadiana region who swore his 1972 oath of office in French and English, Edwards enjoyed renewed popularity after emerging from prison in 2011 at age 83. His quick wit and flamboyant character intact, he married Trina Grimes, then 32, his third wife. They met when she began visiting him in prison after they struck up a pen-pal relationship.“I would have walked into prison a happy man had I known how it was going to end,” he said at his lavish 90th birthday bash in August 2017.They had a son, Eli, in 2013 — Edwards’ fifth child — and starred in a short-lived reality TV show, “The Governor’s Wife.” The lifelong Democrat also attempted a political comeback, losing a runoff to a Republican in a south Louisiana congressional race in 2014.The federal case that led to his May 2000 conviction involved state riverboat casino licenses awarded during and after his fourth and final term in the 1990s. Edwards maintained the case was built on misinterpreted, secretly taped conversations and the lies of former cronies who made deals to avoid jail.Silver-haired, handsome and gifted with a dry sense of humor and easy charm, Edwards dominated Louisiana politics in the late 20th century much as Huey P. Long had dominated its earlier years. They shared a populist appeal to the state’s downtrodden, and political fortunes that flowed in part from taxes on oil. But Edwards, a consummate dealmaker, had a cooler demeanor.Edwards was born Aug. 7, 1927, to a sharecropper and a midwife in Avoyelles Parish, part of the region settled by 18th century French exiles from Nova Scotia who came to be known as Cajuns. According to his authorized biography, his father’s ancestors were Welsh; his mother’s continental French; but Edwards always considered himself a Cajun.Raised a Roman Catholic, Edwards preached in the Church of the Nazarene as a teen and he never drank or smoked. Despite his unabashed fondness for high-stakes gambling, dirty jokes and his reputation as a womanizer, he earned a following among Catholics and fundamentalists.He had four children during a 40-year marriage to his high school sweetheart, the former Elaine Schwartzenburg, before they divorced in 1989. Five years later, at 66, he married 29-year-old Candy Picou in a ceremony at the governor’s mansion. They divorced after he went to prison.“He was so optimistic all the time. Nothing bothered him except bothering other people,” Trina Edwards said.According to the statement, she said his dying words were to his 7-year-old son: “Eli told him every night, ‘I love you.’ And he told Eli, ‘I love you, too.’ Those were his last words.”A lawyer, Edwards began his political career on the City Council in the town of Crowley in 1954 before moving on to the state Legislature, then Congress. He won the governor’s office in 1972 with help from organized labor and Black voters realizing their civil rights-era strength.He appointed more African Americans to policy-making positions than any previous governor and spearheaded the adoption of a new constitution. He also overhauled state revenues, tying oil taxes to price, rather than volume, and filling Louisiana’s coffers during an oil boom.Constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term, he left office in 1980 only to return four years later, after easily defeating incumbent David C. Treen, the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction and a frequent target of Edwards’ barbs. “It takes him an hour and a half to watch ’60 Minutes’” was typical.The campaign was briefly suspended by tragedy: Edwards’ youngest brother, attorney Nolan Edwards, was murdered by a disgruntled client.A grieving Edwards resumed the race and went on to win, then paid off his debts from the $14 million campaign by chartering a $10,000-a-head trip to France for his friends and supporters.“I’ve wanted all my life to be a king, and now I can be,” he quipped during their stop in Versailles.But more trouble loomed.Oil prices plummeted. Edwards pushed through $700 million in highly unpopular taxes.Meanwhile, his reputation for impropriety caught up with him. He had seemed impervious to earlier scandals, even when he acknowledged that he and his wife Elaine received $20,000 from South Korean government agent Tongsun Park.But in 1985, he was indicted on federal racketeering charges involving hospital and nursing home regulations. His fortunes had faded by the time he was acquitted the next year: Bowing out of a 1987 runoff when he faced certain defeat against Democratic Rep. Buddy Roemer, Edwards appeared politically finished.But Roemer suffered political setbacks during his four years, including voter rejection of a tax overhaul package. His switch to the Republican Party didn’t help.Edwards entered the 1991 race — which was open to members of all parties — as did former Klansman David Duke, also running as a Republican. Edwards and Duke earned spots in a runoff, which Edwards won in a landslide by stoking fears that an ex-Nazi in the governor’s mansion would bring economic ruin.“Vote for the crook. It’s important,” said a popular bumper sticker.Edwards retired in 1996, but wound up, again, under federal indictment. Prosecutors said he took payoffs to influence the awarding of casino licenses.This time, the charges stuck.———Associated Press Writer Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge contributed to this story.
A decade-old lawsuit over the awarding of trash disposal contracts during the administration of a convicted former mayor of New Orleans has been settledBy KEVIN McGILL Associated PressJune 21, 2021, 7:20 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNEW ORLEANS — A decade-old lawsuit over the awarding of waste disposal contracts following Hurricane Katrina has been settled, avoiding a Monday trial and ending the latest chapter in a story that added to corruption allegations against a convicted former New Orleans mayor and included a shakeup at a U.S. Attorney’s Office.Terms of the settlement between Waste Management of Louisiana and River Birch Inc. weren’t made public. The settlement was disclosed in a Friday order dismissing the case by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans.In its 2011 lawsuit, Waste Management claimed, among other things, that illegal campaign contributions to former Mayor Ray Nagin prompted him to reverse his approval for the use of a Waste Management landfill. Nagin, who was convicted of corruption on unrelated matters, denied wrongdoing, as did the River Birch owners, Frederick Heebe and Albert Ward Jr.Nagin, 65, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014 on multiple counts including wire fraud, money laundering and bribery. The charges relate to crimes that happened before and after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. He was mayor from 2002 until 2010.Released early in April 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Nagin has long denied allegations of corruption in his administration and he gave a deposition while imprisoned denying allegations in the River Birch lawsuit.In 2012, Jim Letten resigned as the U.S. Attorney in New Orleans after attorneys for Heebe, while River Birch was under investigation, discovered that a Letten assistant had been posting comments about cases under pseudonyms on a newspaper website. Further investigation revealed another prosecutor making such posts as well. The federal investigation of River Birch ended with no charges against Heebe or Ward.———This story has been edited to correct Ray Nagin’s age. He is 65, not 64.