Week in Review, July 26-30: Rush to Vaccinate

Taysom Hill, Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) hands off to running back Alvin Kamara (41) during NFL football training camp in Metairie, Thursday, July 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

NEW ORLEANS – Here, from the staff and wire reports, are the week’s top business stories:

The New Orleans Saints and Caesars Entertainment have officially announced the formation of a 20-year naming-rights partnership that will give the NFL team’s home turf an alliterative new name: Caesars Superdome. In addition to hosting all Saints home football games, Caesars Superdome will be home to the 2022 NCAA Men’s Final Four, the annual Sugar Bowl and College Football Playoff contests and the 2025 Super Bowl. The facility will also be home to hundreds of concerts and other annual events, including Essence Festival and the Bayou Classic football game between Grambling State and Southern University. “All of us at Caesars are proud to be part of New Orleans’ vibrant culture. We understand that the Caesars Superdome is more than an iconic venue; it’s the symbol of a resilient and innovative community,” said Tom Reeg, CEO of Caesars Entertainment, in a press release. “We’ve had a strong relationship with the New Orleans Saints for nearly two decades and we are thrilled with the opportunity to strengthen it and celebrate our commitment to the city, the state, and the entire Gulf Coast region.”

Increasingly urgent efforts to persuade, entice or cajole people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are taking a variety of forms in Louisiana, where new cases and hospitalizations continued a steep climb on Thursday. The New Orleans Saints and Ochsner Health are partnering to bring the Ochsner Mobile Vax Unit to Saints’ training camp this season. Three heralded music venues in the city said they won’t let people into performances starting Friday without proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. A judge in Baton Rouge said he’ll reduce community service hours required of people who are sentenced to probation if they are willing to get vaccinated. And a hospital north of New Orleans, North Oaks Health System in Hammond, reported this week that a recent donor-funded program is providing $100 each to 500 people who get vaccinated. Gov. John Bel Edwards posted a lighthearted public service announcement Thursday with aspiring basketball star and Scripps National Spelling Bee champion Zalia Avante-Garde of Louisiana to encourage vaccinations. The chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge struck a more serious tone in a social media video, noting that hospital admissions there have grown from 35 two weeks ago to 140 Thursday, including 11 children. 

The LSU Health Foundation has announced plans to build a $150 million multi-use living and retirement community on 29 acres of land in Mandeville. The property, valued at $7 million, was donated by the family of late restaurateur Al Copeland. The partnership, which includes Woodward Interests, said the development adjacent to Mariners Village will include restaurants, a marina, a hotel, apartments for active adults and healthcare services provided by LSU Health Sciences Center. In addition, the partnership dictates that $20 million in land lease revenue will be dedicated to cancer research funding over the next 40 years. “This partnership with LSU Health Foundation is a longstanding one, and it is my honor to donate this land in our father’s name,” said Al Copeland Jr. in a press release. “We are proud that the Al Copeland Foundation chose to partner with LSUHSC which was ultimately responsible for finding the cure to the cancer that took his life, and they continue their groundbreaking clinical trials that will change the face of cancer care for generations to come. This development is just the next step in our mission to save lives and end cancer.”

Louisiana is ending federal pandemic unemployment aid for its residents Saturday, booting nearly 200,000 people off benefits and cutting the payments to thousands more in the middle of a worsening COVID-19 surge across the state. Louisiana residents will no longer receive an extra $300 a week on top of the state’s maximum $247 benefit. The state will stop participating in the federal program giving unemployment money to self-employed workers and gig workers who are ineligible for state benefits. And it’s ending federal assistance that allowed people to get jobless benefits past a 26-week state cap. The benefits were available until early September. But Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is ending the aid five weeks early, in a deal with Republican lawmakers that will permanently raise state unemployment benefits by $28 a week, starting in six months.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana has filed federal legislation aimed at reducing crime in areas where tourism is a key segment of state and local economies. The Louisiana Republican’s “Tourism District Protection Act” bill would apply nationally, though Kennedy said crime and economic losses are of particular concern in his home state. “The pandemic lockdowns took revenue away from Louisianians who live in tourism-dependent areas, and now crime is rising across the country,” Kennedy said. The legislation would allow state and local law enforcement agencies to use funding from existing U.S. Department of Justice programs to bolster public safety efforts amid increasing violent crime and diminishing police resources.

Applications are open for the first class of Ochsner Nurse Scholars. The program will provide 200 scholarships to students across the state. Dedicated to growing the pipeline of nursing and allied health professionals in Louisiana, this scholarship program is a key component of Ochsner’s 10-year vision to transform Louisiana into a healthier state by 2030. As more seasoned nurses depart the workforce, Ochsner Nurse Scholars offers a tangible solution to growing the nursing workforce in Louisiana. According to the Louisiana State Board of Nursing Center for Nursing, in 2020, 38% of licensed registered nurses (RNs) residing in Louisiana were 50 years and older and 18% were 60 years and older. This trend is mirrored across the United States with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting an average of 175,900 openings for RNs each year over the decade, largely in part to retiring nurses. Potential burnout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further amplifies the need to bolster the number of nurses joining the workforce.  

Children’s Hospital New Orleans and Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Louisiana celebrated the groundbreaking of a jointly funded, 17,000-square-foot building project that will bring a new, expanded Ronald McDonald House to the Children’s Hospital campus. The $6 million project expands the current New Orleans Ronald McDonald House program, bringing housing to families from across the state and region whose children receive medical services in New Orleans. Ronald McDonald House Charities provides a “home away from home” for families of seriously ill children and provides support programs. “Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Louisiana keeps families close to each other and the medical care their child needs, by providing free accommodations for the family,” said Cheryl Egan, president of RMHC-SLA’s Board of Directors. “For a sick child, having family nearby is critical to the healing process. We are thrilled that the joint effort with Children’s Hospital will allow us to provide on-campus housing while increasing our impact for families traveling to our area for pediatric medical care.”

Mayor LaToya Cantrell has announced that the Blue Bikes bike share program will return to the city’s streets later this summer. A fleet of 500 pedal-assist e-bikes will be ready to ride by Sept. 1. “The upcoming launch of Blue Bikes is a major accomplishment in our commitment to improve equity, connectivity, safety and efficiency in our transportation networks,” said Cantrell in a press release. “Bike share is a critical component of our transportation system; people rely on it to get to work, and we are excited that 500 bikes will be back on the streets soon. We appreciate the partnership in the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which helped develop the new program, and are thankful for the return of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana as lead sponsor.” 

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