Report from Louisiana: Phase 3

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Governor John Bel Edwards moved Louisiana into Phase 3 last week, but not everyone is happy about that, and with good reason.

In some ways, Phase 3 is stricter than Phase 2. For example, in Phase 2, bars are closed to on-site consumption, unless they are also serving food.  Restaurants were able to open and serve alcohol at 50% capacity.

Under Phase 3, the capacity for restaurants moves up to 75%, however now all alcohol must be served only at tables; so, if you’re a restaurant with a bar area where people eat at the bar, nope. You have to sit at a table.

And under Phase 3, bars can now open to 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is smaller, but no alcohol can be sold in either bars or restaurants after 10 p.m., and all establishments must be clear of patrons by 11 p.m.

Live music and dancing are forbidden.

Now, local mayors can go back to a previous phase if it is stricter than the one currently in place, so perhaps local mayors should consider going back to Phase 2 where bars and restaurants could serve alcohol after ten.

High Schools are going ahead with football games beginning in a couple of weeks with “social distancing encouraged” in the stands. In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is keeping her city in Phase 2, and has disallowed all alcohol consumption in bars. There will also be no prep football in New Orleans in Phase 2.

New Orleans is keeping the status quo of Phase 2 which means “bars will continue to be shuttered throughout the city and that restaurants, stores, gyms and other businesses are limited to 50% of their pre-coronavirus capacity.”

The rules in NOLA have been tougher than the rest of the state because their numbers were so high compared to other places.

At any rate, here in Shreveport anyway, bar owners are frustrated by the continued restraints on their business, and now those seem even tougher.

In Bossier Parish, where I teach, we are going back to 100% face to face instruction next week. No more A/B hybrid days. This has me concerned because this means my small classroom will again be filled to capacity with students. There are pros and cons to this: from an educational standpoint, of course it’s better because face it, the virtual model is not working well for many kids. But from a health standpoint, I’m nervous again.

There will be literally nothing I can do in my classroom as far as social distancing goes. We won’t be able to spread even three feet apart.

I don’t have the answers, but I don’t think anyone does. It’s like at this point, with restrictions easing on one end and tightening up on another, we are nowhere close to being on the same page with this virus. All I can do will be the best I can, and try to protect myself.

Life has never felt more dystopian.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: a Book Review

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — I’ve just finished reading a beautiful novel that I want to share with you. As like probably many of you, I’m an avid reader with a pretty diverse interest range. I read a lot of nonfiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction…pretty much anything. Not a big fan of romance, but I do like a good mystery.

The End of the Day by Bill Clegg is a stunning new novel coming out September 29 and is available for pre-order on Amazon. The story takes a while to unfold — don’t get impatient. It’s worth the journey. Told from the POV of various characters, we are slowly pulled in, woven in, to this complex plot line of intersecting lives. Just how they intersect is not immediately clear.

The main characters are Jackie, Dana, and Lupita. Three women of different social class: Dana is wealthy and privileged, Jackie is middle-class, and Lupita working class. Lupita’s family works for Dana’s family who is sponsoring them for a green card; Jackie and Dana are childhood friends. The story is set in the framework of a single day yet covers sixty years and Clegg weaves this intricate plot one thread at a time.

The prose is lyrical and more than once I found myself reaching for a notebook to write down a line simply because it was so evocative and beautiful. Symbolic elements abound without being overpowering. This is the kind of novel you read slowly in order to absorb every detail and I was sorry when it ended.

This is the first Bill Blegg novel for me but now I’m going to go back and read his other work, both fiction and nonfiction: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, and Did you Ever Have a Family, among others.

Add this book to your reading list; if you like solid, beautiful literary fiction, this is a good one.

Report from Louisiana: Week One – Done

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Schools across the country are opening up, some all virtual, some all in-person, and some a hybrid mix A/B schedule. School districts are making decisions about transparency and how much information to share with the public with regard to Covid exposures and outbreaks. These policies differ from district to district.

When making decisions about exposure transparency several factors seem to be at play. First to consider is patient privacy, of course. Some districts are interested in image and in containing community panic. Others are wide open and are making weekly disclosure announcements.

In exploring this same topic last week, The New York Times spoke with Dr. Ashish Jha, of the Harvard Global Health Institute, who said “If schools don’t notify, it actually can make disease control more difficult. And it’s not like no one will know. Word will get out through a rumor mill. You don’t scare people by telling them what’s going on. You scare them by hiding information.”

Personally, I think communities should be informed, but I do see the problem if it is a very small community where patient identity would be obvious.

Most districts are choosing to notify only close contacts who might need to quarantine, and the rumor mill is taking care of the rest. This is a poor system.

I teach high school, and we had four days of inservice and training of the new programs that will support virtual learning, and then we had students for two days so far on an A/B hybrid schedule. We get half of our students on an A day and the other half on the B day, then they alternate Fridays.  This is my twenty-fifth year to teach high school, and it was the first year that I felt sad at the end of the day. There were no hugs, no high-fives, and no smiles that I could see because everyone was wearing a mask.

Many people were so anxious for schools to open so we could “get back to normal,” but let me tell you, this is in no way normal. When the bus drops kids off they go straight to a homeroom, or to the cafeteria to pick up a grab and go breakfast in a big Ziploc bag, then they go to homeroom. Everyone sits in homeroom until the first bell at 7:25. We are six feet apart, and there are no more than ten kids in any classroom at one time.

Same procedure for lunch.  The kids never go outside, and can’t let loose and relax much at lunch, because they are sitting six feet apart in a desk.

This is not normal.

Classes aren’t even normal. There are no group projects – we have to sit in straight rows all facing the front. Some elementary teachers have spent their own money to build plexiglass partitions and cubicles for students to avoid the rows.

The halls are quiet because you can’t stop and socialize – six feet apart.

It’s just very surreal and dystopian and it made me sad.

My colleagues and I are trying as hard as we can to find solutions, to break the monotony, to be engaging. To make them laugh, to feel safe, to feel welcome.

But this is not normal school. It still is better than 100% virtual for some students, that is certain. There is still bound to be a little bit of social stimulation here.

But outbreaks and exposures are already happening. I personally know of several in quarantine after only two days. I take precautions – I’ve bought a HEPA air purifier for my classroom (out of my own pocket.) We wipe down Chromebooks between each student, and desks, all day long. At the end of the day the custodians come in with foggers to kill any lingering virus. We have to exit our classrooms right after the students leave, so no more long afternoons at my desk catching up on grading. When I come home, I leave my shoes outside, change and shower immediately. The clothes go straight into the washer.

Meanwhile, a large part of the general public tells us teachers to quit whining, that grocery clerks, medical personnel, and other frontline workers have been working since March. Suck it up. I’m in my classroom from 9:05 – 2:15 with kids, with no personal break. None. I’m eating breakfast and lunch with them. (First block is my planning block, so after breakfast in have 90 minutes to take care of things prepping for the day). Cleaning. Sanitizing. Worrying – did I miss something?

I’m already exhausted, and I can’t imagine how my kids feel.

And if that’s not enough on anyone’s plate, here in Louisiana we have two hurricanes rolling in this week. TWO. IN THE SAME WEEK.

 I mean, really. Stop, already.

I’m not having a pity party, I promise. I love my job, and I love my school and my students, but I worry – this is not normal school. And if parents thought that’s what they were getting, it’s just not. Basically, they are getting virtual school, in person.  And they may or may not be notified if there is an exposure in their child’s school.

Even with all that, the kids really do seem happy to be back! And I’ll do everything in my power to keep it that way.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: I’m armed with a spray bottle and a rag.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Admittedly, I am more than a little obsessed with reading about coronavirus and learning everything I can about mitigating the spread in my classroom as I prepare to return to in-person classes soon. The medical and research community is learning so much about the virus, how it spreads, and how we treat it every single day. What we thought we knew in May or June is already out of date.

I’ve been increasingly alarmed about returning to the classroom as regular readers of my posts know. My classroom usually holds 27 kids, it has no ventilation, and the windows don’t open. There is one door. It is a small room, as classrooms go, and so 25 kids in there is a wall to wall, but we always push those limits. I am told this year, as long as Louisiana is in Phase 2, there will be no more than ten students in the room at a time.

Every teacher will be supplied with one spray bottle of HALT, a hospital grade cleaner and disinfectant, and one microfiber rag. We are to use this rag to clean desks between classes, for the entire week, then the rag will be washed.

Every teacher will be provided with a cloth mask, and disposable masks will be available to students who do not have a mask. Masks will be mandatory for all, but “flexibility is expected,” assumingly for students with asthma and other medical conditions.

And pretty much, that’s it.  Good luck.

I’m honestly not sure how long we will be in school; as schools across the country are beginning to open up it does not seem to be going well. In Indiana, there was an issue on Day One at Greenfield Central when an infected student came to school. Also in Indiana, Elwood Senior High School is closing for one week because a staff member was positive for Covid.

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said on Sunday that “areas with high caseloads and active community spread should ‘distance learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control.’” In Louisiana, our community spread rate has been in the upper 90% consistently.

So, I’m kind of resigned at this point; I’ll go back into my classroom which will in no way resemble the normal classroom that everyone wants to return to. It will be distance learning in person. I won’t be able to consult one on one with kids who need help because I can’t get that close to them.  I won’t be able to walk through the room to monitor work or behavior. There can be no fun group projects or activities.

And then someone will get sick; I hope it’s not the teacher on the third floor who has been doing chemo. I hope it’s not the teacher who gets pneumonia every year and struggles with respiratory issues. I hope it’s not the teacher with an auto-immune disease on my floor. I hope it’s not any of the students. I hope it’s not me. I hope none of us bring it home to at-risk family members.

And you know, there are these people who say that teachers are griping and worrying for nothing, that we are lazy and just don’t want to go to work. They point out that retail workers and grocery workers, hospital workers and law enforcement, have been working all along. This is true. They have. And thank goodness for that.

But which of them works in a small, unventilated room enclosed with 10 to 25 people, for six hours a day, for 60 to 90 minutes at a time? Not to take away from what other groups are doing at all, but what we are about to ask of teachers is unprecedented.

So. Armed with my spray bottle, my mask, and my microfiber rag, I’m expected to do what Major League Baseball can’t even do: protect my charges from a pandemic. With all of their money, and all of their resources, MLB can’t protect their million dollar investments.

But me and my spray bottle will try.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Opening School

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We are about five weeks from opening school in Louisiana, and teachers are beginning to get anxious. Certainly parents and students are as well, but teachers are natural planners and we like to know the lay of the land with as much advance notice as possible.

Districts across the nation have started releasing tentative plans, but we all know that could change on a dime. Most look like hybrid plans – part virtual school, part in-person. There are also all-virtual options for parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids back to school just yet.

I see a lot of concern about masks; both teachers and students are generally going to be expected to wear masks to school. I see lots of concern about social distancing, about number of students in a classroom, and about spacing kids out on the bus.

What I don’t see a lot of is concern for the teacher. In discussion threads I’ve been reading, many parents can’t wait to get their kids back to school, for a variety of reasons, and many seem comfortable that their kids will be safe. After all, it’s older folks who are mostly catching COVID-19, not young kids. We haven’t seen a lot of outbreaks in day care centers, I’m told.

Teachers across the country have a great deal of anxiety about returning to the classroom. There are a great many teachers near retirement age, or that are currently eligible to retire but just haven’t wanted to. These are the teachers expressing the most concern right now; many of us are caring for elderly family members or are in an at-risk group ourselves. Some of us live with immunocompromised people. So yes, we are invested in being certain that school opens safely.

From ABC News:

Some teachers around the country say they are nervous about returning because of underlying health conditions or concerns about infecting family members. Others say they are frustrated by the lack of clear guidance from officials about what’s safe. And for some, it’s about child care if their own kids are only back at school for a handful of days during the week.

The result is an inevitable clash between leaders pushing aggressive reopening policies in states like Texas and Florida and teachers, some of whom say local officials need to think more about what they are asking teachers to do.

There is so much conflicting information, it is difficult to believe anything or to truly know what is safe and what isn’t. After months of social distancing and stay at home orders, how can we just return to school with any degree of certainty that things will be safe?

Overall, a combined 54 percent of American voters said they are somewhat uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with reopening K-12 schools for the beginning of the coming school year, according to the latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that assessed the nation’s mood about students returning to day cares and schools shut down by the pandemic.

Some districts are offering either virtual learning or in-person learning that “almost totally” disregards CDC guidelines because social distancing won’t be possible and students might not be wearing masks, said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of a school superintendents association.

“A lot of states along the Southern belt are just planning to move ahead with, all students, all come, and to me, that is going to be a horror,” he said.

And on the issue of masks, many school districts are recommending them but can’t mandate them unless they supply them. Or can they? How is it different than a mandated dress code? And what if a student refuses? What about students with asthma or other concerns?

So many unknowns.

And yes, we still have a few weeks. Things can change very quickly as we all know.

But I worry.

I worry about bring this virus into my home. I worry about getting sick, myself. I worry about exposing so many more people to the virus by opening schools and all that brings.  So many surfaces to clean! Where will all those Lysol wipes come from!? This is certainly a logistical nightmare for district decision-makers on so many levels.

What are your thoughts on the new school year? Would you be comfortable sending your kids into a public school in five weeks?

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Protests

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Are people protesting where you live?  I know many cities across the nation are dealing with protests, some peaceful, some not so much.

In Shreveport, there have been protests and marches every weekend since the George Floyd incident exploded in the media. The focus of the protest this weekend seemed to center around the Confederate monument which stands in front of the courthouse. This is not news. The monument has been in litigation between the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the parish administration for years now. There is, in fact, another court date tomorrow. The protesters are angry that the monument is still there and want to see it moved to another location. Plenty of them want it simply destroyed.

I have not seen my city more racially divided since 1988 when riots erupted across Shreveport which drew national attention at the time.

Protesters gathered on the courthouse lawn Saturday and paced back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse bearing large, heavy guns.  Counter-protesters in support of the monument gathered on the sidewalk across the street, also heavily armed. No weapons are allowed on courthouse grounds, of course, and so those with the weapons stayed on the sidewalk while others took turns taking the microphone to speak or share their latest musical endeavor. Club music played over the PA between speakers. For the most part, it was a peaceful demonstration although there were reportedly a couple of arrests and verbal altercations between the two sides.

As photographs of the day, and live video streaming, began to filter onto social media, people expressed outrage and concern at the large number of heavy weapons on both sides.

One car backfire on Texas Street could have turned the whole thing into a very ugly scene.

On the other hand, Louisiana is an open carry state and so as long as your AR15 is visible, it’s just fine to carry it around in public.

The BLM group has vowed to be on the courthouse lawn every Saturday until the monument is removed. As long as they have a permit, they have the right to do this.

All eyes right now will be on the court action tomorrow. The case on the Confederate monument has been in litigation for years, even up to the US Supreme Court (which declined to hear the case); the UDC and the parish are currently using different legal angles and paths to continue fighting in the courts.

Both sides of the issue vow to be in the courtroom tomorrow – this time without the weaponry.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: More Protests

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Everyone is talking about statues again, and not just Confederate ones.

Now the Theodore Roosevelt statue will be removed from the Museum of Natural History:

The bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, on horseback and flanked by a Native American man and an African man, which has presided over the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History in New York since 1940, is coming down.

The decision, proposed by the museum and agreed to by New York City, which owns the building and property, came after years of objections from activists and at a time when the killing of George Floyd has initiated an urgent nationwide conversation about racism.

For many, the equestrian statue at the museum’s Central Park West entrance has come to symbolize a painful legacy of colonial expansion and racial discrimination.

This is becoming epidemic.

They aren’t stopping at just monuments. At LSU in Baton Rouge, the Middleton Library is being renamed, and Troy Middleton’s name removed from the exterior of the building after a dig through archives determined Middleton held segregationist views in the 1950s.

Lee High School is Baton Rouge is going to be renamed. The school board member who opposed the motion is being targeted as a racist.

Activist Gary Chambers is also calling for street names with Confederate names to be changed:

Chambers, who is publisher of The Rouge Collection, also repeated his call that streets near Lee High, several of them named after Confederate generals, be renamed. “There’s even a street named Whitehaven,” he said.

One of the groups behind the removal of the Confederate monuments in New Orleans, Take ‘Em Down NOLA, has a list of sites they want renamed which they published in 2017. Their website now also calls for abolishing the police:

In this moment of global reconciliation with age old truths around systemic racism, Take Em Down NOLA demands that the city government finally begin the real work of reckoning with the WHOLE truth of white supremacy in New Orleans. They can start with the immediate removal of ALL symbols to white supremacy, including those that represent figures both before and after the Civil War. And they can move further by taking steps towards the abolition of the NOPD by DEFUNDING them (as they currently expropriate some two-thirds of taxpayers’ money) and PROACTIVELY reallocating those funds to children and families and the development of jobs that pay a LIVING wage. Minimum wage has never been sufficient, and it certainly isn’t now. 

There is apparently no compromise and no room for discussion with radical extreme points of view – from either direction.

In Shreveport this past weekend, we have seen one demonstration after another; they have been peaceful, but have not been without conflict. Shreveport’s Confederate monument is still standing in front of the courthouse; the monument stands within a fence on a tiny parcel of land owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy – although this is still in litigation. During the protest this weekend, one of the participants climbed over the iron fence with a sledgehammer and posed for photos with the caption “Move it or Lose It!” 

No harm was actually done, but the threat was made, and the person was trespassing on private property. Whether that land is actually owned by the UDC or not, the monument certainly is, and so: trespassing.

The Dallas, Texas Confederate monument is being dismantled as I type this.

At any rate, there is no end to this, and when all the monuments are gone, when all the school names and street names have been changed, when every single symbol is erased, will people then stop having racial bias? Will that do it?

When does it end? What does it take?

I don’t think anyone has the answer to that.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Into the Mighty Mississippi

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The issue of monuments persists.

John Ruberry asked in this space, “Where does it all end?”  I’ve been asking myself this question for several years now as we fight in Shreveport to save our Confederate monument. Perceived symbolism aside, our monument is a beautiful work of sculpture in its own right, and fairly unique among other Confederate monuments.

The unhinged left continues to destroy and deface monuments and it seems that logic and reason has gone further and further out the window. All that matters now is that the target is a monument, never mind what it stands for.

In New Orleans this weekend, protesters attacked a bust of John McDonough (1779-1850) in front of City Hall. Armed with a chisel and a skateboard, they tore the bust off its pedestal and tossed it into the Mississippi River:

A group of protesters used a chisel, rope and a skateboard to tear down the bust of John McDonough in Duncan Plaza, doused it in brightly colored paint and rolled it into the Mississippi River on Saturday.

The New Orleans Police Department said at 5:30 p.m. that two people who drove the bust to Jax Brewery to dump it in the river were “apprehended and transported to NOPD headquarters.” Protesters began gathering at the jail near Tulane Avenue and South Broad Street known as the Orleans Justice Center and there were roughly 200 there by 7 p.m.

Their grievance seems to be that McDonough owned slaves.

While McDonough wasn’t a saint, he did leave his fortune to Baltimore and New Orleans for the purpose of forming schools for poor black and white children.

Two of those who attacked the monument have been arrested.

In Kentucky, armed residents formed a line of protection around their Confederate monument against potential attackers.

Nancy Pelosi has called for the removal of eleven statues from Statuary Hall at the Capitol Building. While her letter does no specify which eleven statues, she does specifically mention Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens who served as President and Vice-President of the Confederacy.

Louisiana’s two statues there include Huey P. Long and Edward Douglas White. White was a U.S. Senator and a Chief Justice of the United States, but he also served as a soldier in the Confederacy. Is she targeting this statue as well? It’s not clear.

But again, you see the problem? Where does this end? We can remove monuments, relocate statues, throw busts into the Mississippi, but where does it end? Who gets to decide which ones go? Under whose sensibilities are we all to live? Whose rights take precedence over any others?

Honestly it makes me crazy. I want to wash my hands of all of it and live on a houseboat in the Atchafalaya Basin.

We need to find our way back to reason and learn to get along. Mind our own business. Find a balance. Enough.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Phase 2

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is expecting news today from Governor John Bel Edwards regarding moving into Phase 2 and reopening the state.

Whatever else this pandemic has been, it has certainly been the cause for many businesses and restaurants to close permanently. Maybe they were already on the brink of closure and Covid just pushed them over the edge—I don’t know. It seems now that people are just “over it.” I’m seeing fewer people wearing masks than I did a week or two ago. The rioters and looters on my television aren’t wearing masks, either, for the most part.

Louisiana State University has released their plans for reopening the college for the fall semester; plans include social distancing, increased sanitation measures, and random testing of the campus population:

Random testing between 10 and 16 percent of the populations of all LSU System campuses statewide for COVID-19 this fall. Participants would be selected randomly from lists of students and employees, and those selected would be encouraged to participate in the testing, although, not required. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 would be interviewed in an effort to determine who they have been with recently so that accurate contact tracing can be achieved. Every effort would be made to locate and test anyone believed to have been exposed. The goal of this plan is to determine the incidence of the virus on LSU’s campuses and to locate and mitigate any possible clusters of the virus.

The public school system in which I work has not yet released any specific plans, but the discussions sound much like everything else with social distancing and increased sanitation. I’m having a hard time envisioning my 15 and 16 year old students practicing social distancing in the hallways and the very small classrooms. On our campus there is just not a lot of room to spread out classes to keep kids six feet apart or have smaller classes.

Will they have to wear masks? Will I have to teach theme, symbolism, and literary analysis through a mask?

It is hard to imagine.

I have seen discussion in neighborhood social media groups with parents who will opt to home school rather than send kids back to “an environment of fear.” So be it.  That, too, will be interesting to monitor. For example, mine is a Title 1 school in a high poverty neighborhood and not many parents are interested in home schooling their kids. That is not to say none will or that all of our kids are in poverty; that’s not the case. There is a high percentage that are and many struggle just to have regular meals.

The virus numbers do seem to be leveling off, but our challenges are not.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Contact tracing the new normal?

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I was quite interested to read John Ruberry’s post on this blog this weekend in which he discusses the impact of Covid-19 in Illinois under the leadership of Governor J.B. Pritzker.  It all sounds so very familiar.

In Louisiana, we are waiting once again for Governor John Bel Edwards to move Louisiana to Phase One and reopen businesses. We expected this announcement two weeks ago, but Edwards surprised us all by extending our stay at home order until May 16, infuriating business owners, citizens, and a large number of Republican lawmakers.

As of last week, Louisiana’s unemployment rate was around 22%.

One of the components for reopening the state that Edwards will discuss today will be Contact Tracing.  Right now, Louisiana has 70 people trained for contact tracing which does NOT meet suggested guidelines, but Edwards plans to hire hundreds more.

Many are obviously suspicious about the concept of contact tracing and what information will be gathered, not to mention who will be gathering it. According to Governor Edwards:

The state’s plan considers people who have been in close contact with someone if they are:

Household members of the person who tested positive.

Intimate partners of the person who tested positive.

People who have provided care to you in the household or outside.

Anyone who has been in close contact – that is defined as someone who has been within six feet or closer for a time period greater than 15 minutes.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is taking this a step further by requiring shopkeepers to keep records of everyone who shops, or comes into, their stores.

It is all very “Big Brother” and many are suspicious of giving information to a contact tracer. One new contact tracer described her first day this way:

Some people are a little suspicious. Some people hang up after I ask for their date of birth and address. I understand that, the mistrust of the government, having grown up under communism. But it’s too bad. I feel like they can benefit from this information: how to quarantine themselves, how they can protect their families, and what kind of support is available. Probably 50%, maybe 60%, of the contacts that I call on my shift don’t answer. Some don’t have voicemail set up. But I leave a message when I can, and several people called me back yesterday.

NPR details how contact tracing works and how it has been used in other countries:

The idea behind this public health strategy is simple: Keep the virus in check by having teams of public health workers — epidemiologists, nurses, trained citizens — identify each new positive case, track down their contacts and help both the sick person and those who were exposed isolate themselves.

This is the strategy that’s been proven to work in other countries, including China, South Korea, and Germany. For it to work in the U.S., states and local communities will need ample testing and they’ll need to expand their public health workforce. By a lot.

And while Google and Apple would love to jump in and get a piece of this governmental financial pie, high tech is not really what works in this case:

It’s not super complicated to understand why technologists are having a hard time getting traction. Traditional contact tracing has been honed over decades of response to disease outbreaks. Officials ask patients where they’ve been and whom they’ve been near; they then suggest those people get tested for the disease and make sure they quarantine, if necessary. Quickly identifying and segregating people carrying the virus can slow the spread of a communicable disease. “It works by building a human bond between two people,” the patient and the contact tracer, says Tom Frieden, the former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York City Department of of Health and Mental Hygiene. “It means actually talking to someone and answering their questions, addressing their needs and concerns, and building, earning, and maintaining their trust and confidentiality.”

Contact tracing is not a new concept and has been used widely in many other outbreaks, but perhaps never to this extent.

At this point, we are all ready to get back to normal, or new normal, whatever that is. We broke out of quarantine as soon as Texas opened their border to Louisiana again and went to eat in a restaurant. We had to wait outside (in a crowd) for an hour to get in because they can only operate at 25% capacity. There were no salt or pepper shakers on the tables, nothing that has to be repeatedly sanitized. Menus are all paper and disposable. There were a lot of obvious changes.

The new normal will include a lot of changes that make us uncomfortable and perhaps suspicious. But by and large, America is ready to go back to work.

Let’s do this.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.