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Louisiana governor, lawmakers oppose canceling school sports

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Despite Louisiana’s surging coronavirus outbreak, Gov. John Bel Edwards and a majority of state House members oppose a state senator’s call for the cancellation of public school athletics this fall.

Edwards said Senate Education Chairman Cleo Fields’ push to suspend K-12 athletic events as a safety precaution was well-meaning — but the Democratic governor said it’s “just a little too early” to make such a sweeping determination.

“I think we all have some concerns,” Edwards said. “But I don’t think we’re at that point in time where that decision needs to be made, and I think we need to know a little bit more.”

Louisiana is seeing renewed spikes in the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, with patient hospitalizations rising and public health officials expressing worry about the significant jump in positive tests for the virus. More than 3,200 people have died from COVID-19, according to health department data released Thursday, and 1,042 infected patients are in the hospital. More than 1,800 new positive tests were reported overnight.

Still, while Edwards has sounded the alarm about the hospitalization numbers and case spikes, he’s been hesitant so far to tighten restrictions on businesses, call for school closures or suggest a specific approach to sports events.

A group of 56 Republican state representatives — including House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and other top ranking GOP lawmakers — penned a letter to Louisiana’s education leaders, urging a normal extracurricular sports schedule as schools reopen.

The letter, led by House Education Chairman Ray Garofalo, called for “returning our students and athletes to the classroom and sports fields as soon as possible for the upcoming school year in as safe a manner as practicable given the circumstances.”

Seven Republican senators also signed the letter, which was sent to Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association and Sandy Holloway, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The education board has scheduled a Tuesday meeting to discuss minimum standards governing school reopenings this fall. Schools already have started announcing their fall plans, with some planning a full return to the classroom and sports and others choosing a mix of in-person teaching and online distance learning.

Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, wants the state’s top school board to issue rules requiring the athletics suspension. If the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education does not do so, he’s asking the school boards association to ask local school boards and superintendents to cancel fall sports events voluntarily.

The suggestion has provoked pushback from Fields’ legislative colleagues.

Republican Rep. Tanner Magee, the House’s second-ranking member, sent his own letter to Holloway, the education board president, objecting to the proposal to suspend fall athletics. Magee, of Houma, said the physical and mental benefits of sports outweigh the risks of COVID-19.

“Let’s truly look out for our children’s best interest from a holistic approach and develop a plan that is safe,” he wrote.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

Louisiana has nearly 72,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Public health experts say the actual infection rate is expected to be much higher because many people do not experience significant symptoms and others never get tested.

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