Over the past month, life has been turned upside down here in Cenla and across the nation and the globe. The COVID-19 outbreak has brought with it challenges not seen in over a century and on a scale perhaps never seen before. Leaders at all levels of government are marshalling resources and working to provide the best guidance as we navigate our way forward. With many businesses and nearly all leisure attractions temporarily shuttered, neighbors are finding ways to give back that are both creative and socially conscious.
The city of Alexandria has partnered with the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Alexandria-Pineville Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA), and the England Authority to launch a one-stop emergency response website at www.CenlaReady.com.
Cenla Ready is a movement built on the collaboration of all the locally-owned businesses, restaurants, and services in the Central Louisiana area. “When an emergency or disaster situation occurs, whether it is a health issue like we are experiencing with the COVID-19 coronavirus, or a natural disaster like a hurricane, tornado or flooding, or something like a chemical spill, area residents and businesses need immediate access to critical information and resources,” said Alexandria Mayor Jeffrey W. Hall. “That is the goal of this site, to provide a single resource point online where Central Louisiana residents and business owners can go to get the latest news on the event and find the resources they need to be able to protect themselves and their families and then to rebuild and recover.”
Currently, a variety of groups and agencies provide various amounts of emergency information. The goal of CenlaReady.com is to bring all of that information together to make it easier and faster for residents and area businesses to access the information they need at a single website. In addition to the online component, CenlaReady.com also has a hotline people can call for help if they don’t have online access or if they prefer telephone access. The hotline number is (318) 441-6727. The hotline will be staffed with a live representative from 9:00am until 4:00pm, Monday through Friday. The site also includes a “Contact Us” link for electronic communication, available any time.
Included on the site are links to a wealth of information. Users can find up-to-date information on which restaurants remain open, adjusted hours of operation and ordering information. For parents classified as essential workers with children who are suddenly out of school, the site includes a link to the Louisiana Department of Education’s Child Care Assistance Program Pandemic Protective Services Crisis Application.
For those who find themselves out of work, the site includes resource links for SNAP benefits, utility assistance, legal advice and more. The site also features cleaning product safety and emergency preparedness information.
The disruption of daily life has negatively impacted the blood supply in Central Louisiana. LifeShare Blood Center estimates that, in its network alone, over 6,000 planned blood donations have been lost and more than 300 blood drives have been canceled. The need for whole blood and whole blood products still exists, and there are expanded options for donation, including changes to the FDA guidelines governing eligible donors. “It is critically important we have rationally and scientifically based blood donation deferral periods,” according to U.S. Surgeon general Jerome Adams. “[These changes] can significantly increase life-saving blood donations, prevent drug shortages and help reduce harmful stigma.” A list of donation times and locations is available at CenlaReady.com.
“The Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce appreciates Mayor Jeff Hall and the City of Alexandria for establishing CenlaReady. We are committed to serving as a partner in this effort to share vital information with individuals and businesses as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds,” said Chamber President Deborah Randolph. For businesses whose operations have been negatively affected by the pandemic, emergency small business and CARES Act loan application information is available through both CenlaReady.com and SBA.gov.
“England Airpark is proud to join with our economic development partners in serving the businesses that are vital to our community. We have businesses located at England Airpark that will no doubt benefit from the steps being taken and information shared,” said Sandra McQuain, executive director of the England Authority.
“CLEDA is happy to be one of the City of Alexandria’s partners in the launch of the CenlaReady hotline and website,” said Jim Clinton, CLEDA executive director. “CLEDA provides support to the region’s manufacturers and small businesses. Our Business Acceleration System’s entrepreneurship resources are ready to help small businesses survive the crisis and be prepared to prosper when economic conditions return to normal.”
Sherry Ellington, executive director of the Alexandria/Pineville Convention and Visitors Bureau, added, “The Convention and Visitors Bureau is dedicated to promoting the viability of our local businesses that are an integral part of our community as well as our tourism economy. We are thankful to be included with these partners working to continuously support Central Louisiana businesses.”
The social distancing and shelter-at-home orders have necessitated the shifting of education at all levels to online and at-home formats. This can present unique challenges for students, educators and parents alike. For those without access, Louisiana State University of Alexandria is providing wireless internet access free of charge to those in need.
Students and members of the public are able to utilize this service without registration, supervision, or cost while remaining inside their vehicles. The network can be accessed in the parking lot (Lot 6) between the Catholic Student Organization (CSO) and the Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) on campus.
“We’re excited to provide this service to our local community. With all of the sudden changes and closures due to the coronavirus emergency, access to school work, as well as business operations, has been limited for many residents in the surrounding rural areas. Our IET Services department did a terrific job setting up the equipment to provide high-bandwidth internet, while maintaining the security needed on our campus networks. Anyone can park inside the lot, access the internet, and complete his or her school or business activities–all without leaving the vehicle,” said Deron Thaxton, Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration. “This is one of those services that we will likely continue to provide, even after the coronavirus emergency is over. I think it’s a great community offering for use at any time.”
The service is available with limited bandwidth so it is requested that those using the service be respectful of others. Additionally, users are asked to only access for business and educational purposes only (please refrain from large file downloads and video streaming). The wireless network name (SSID) is LSUA-BoNipper-Hotspot. No password is needed. Additional information can be found on the LSUA website at lsua.edu/coronavirus.
To supplement the online learning programs available through traditional school environments that have transitioned online, Louisiana Public Broadcasting has launched “Learning@Home” in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Education. Parents and teachers of students in grades Pre-K through 12 can take advantage of resources to make students’ time at home more educational and productive.
For more than 40 years, LPB’s fundamental mission has been to provide educational resources to all children and families in Louisiana. Starting today, LPB is dedicating weekday programming between noon and 5:00pm to educational program blocks designed in collaboration with the Louisiana Department of Education and with national partners at PBS. LPB’s regular PBS KIDS programming will continue to broadcast from 5am to noon on LPB’s main LPB-HD channel and also 24/7 on LPB2 PBS KIDS channel. As America’s most trusted institution and #1 educational media brand, PBS offers award-winning, research-based content that brings learning to life. PBS KIDS high-quality programs are recommended, by name, by the American Academy of Pediatrics for helping to prepare young children for school.
Through the Learning@Home page, teachers and families can access free videos, apps and games for children, LPB’s broadcast schedules, the free Bright by Text parenting tip messaging service, access to LPB LearningMedia and Discovery Education for educators, and links to award-winning PBS Digital Studios videos like “Crash Course,” “Deep Look,” “It’s Okay to Be Smart,” and more.
LPB will also provide information for educators from the Louisiana Department of Education about grade level assignments and resources. The LPB Learning at Home site is https://lpb.org/athome.
The Cenla business community has teamed up in unique and interesting ways to benefit the frontline healthcare workers hard at work battling the pandemic. Cleco donated $1,500 to Louisiana College (LC) to support the college’s efforts to make face shields for health care facilities that are facing supply shortages amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Natalie Maxey, Ph.D., assistant professor of engineering at LC, is helping to organize the community project. Dr. Maxey said the idea came from hearing how the health care industry was facing a shortage of supplies and personal protective equipment due to the coronavirus.
“We have a 3D printer and normally use it for our pre-engineering program, but it can print the materials needed to make face shields and masks,” said Dr. Maxey. “We’re focusing on face shields first because this is what the local hospitals have told us they need, and they meet hospital requirements. A mask design also is in progress in case there is a shortage of those.”
Dr. Maxey said her sister, a surgeon at Rapides Regional Medical Center, along with another doctor, has been helping with testing. She also said it takes about one hour and 15 minutes to make one face shield, but she has volunteers with 3D printers willing to help. Cleco’s donation will help make about 300 face shields. “We’re committed to helping protect the communities we serve which includes the medical professionals working in our hospitals, urgent care facilities and nursing homes,” said Anthony Bunting, chief transformation officer. “Cleco believes in the power of community and now more than ever, we need to help one another especially those on the front lines.”
“Part of our mission at LC is to use the resources we’ve been blessed with to find solutions to disease, poverty, and war and to improve quality of life,” said Dr. Maxey.
As we continue to all do our part to help “flatten the curve” while supporting local businesses and the essential workers whose tireless efforts keep us safe, nourished and healthy, continue to keep the faith. Remain diligent in keeping up with the latest guidelines, resources and information through sites like CenlaReady.com and the Governor’s office. Louisianans can get updates directly from the Governor in two new ways. To get texts from the Governor’s office, text LACOVID to 67283. Citizens can also visit coronavirus.la.gov, which hosts all news about the COVID-19 response in Louisiana. In addition, the Governor’s Office shares information on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts and on its website, gov.louisiana.gov. Members of the public with general questions can also call 2-1-1.
We are Cenla Ready and we will come through stronger than ever!