As Louisiana experienced the largest one-day increase in coronavirus cases since the height of the outbreak in early April, state health officials raised the alarm about the numbers worsening and urged people to take precautions to limit the spread .
In the past seven days, Louisiana has averaged more new cases, 775, than at any other time since the week ending April 13, when the state was in the midst of a stay-at-home order aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. enough to avoid overwhelming hospitals. The 1,356 new cases confirmed Tuesday were the highest since April 7.
Louisiana is testing more people now compared to earlier this spring, when the virus spread to New Orleans and elsewhere. But authorities on Tuesday pointed out troubling data that could spell the start of new trends.
The rate of positive tests compared to total tests has increased, from less than 5% in the first phase of reopening that began in mid-May to 6.84% last week, according to data from the Department of Health. And the amount of confirmed coronavirus in the state is growing again at a faster rate.
The number of coronavirus patients in the hospital has increased for five consecutive days across the state, from 554 to 646, erasing the state’s June earnings for hospitalizations.
Once a national hotspot, the greater New Orleans region is experiencing slightly better trends than other regions, such as Acadiana. Still, Dr. Joseph Kanter, regional medical director for Region 1, which includes New Orleans, said the amount of coronavirus in the region is still high enough to cause concern.
“It is like a slow-burning fire,” said Kanter. “It may be contained, but it’s not extinguished, and it really doesn’t take much to turn it on anymore.”
Kanter said the increase in hospitalized cases is a “strong signal” that the virus is spreading. Young people, ages 18-29, have begun contributing a larger proportion to the state total, partly because they are likely to be contracting the virus at a higher rate, and partly because they have more evidence available than they have from the start. . But Kanter noted that the increase in hospitalizations is not mostly from 18 to 29 years old, and that authorities believe that young people will transmit the virus to the older and sicker cohorts.
Jefferson Parish has recently fueled much of the growth in cases in the New Orleans region, Kanter said, but said the virus “does not meet any limits.” For example, some of the confirmed cases in Tigerland bars in Baton Rouge were residents of Jefferson Parish and Orleans Parish.
The dramatic increase in cases comes a day after Governor John Bel Edwards announced that the state would not move to Phase 3 to reopen on Friday, when the Phase 2 order expired. Instead, the state will remain in Phase 2, where restaurants, retailers, barbershops, and other businesses are limited to 50% of capacity, for another four weeks, in an effort to better handle the growing cases.
According to the Louisiana Department of Health, last week the state recorded the third-highest increase in recorded cases, behind only the first two weeks of April. The vast majority, 95%, of Tuesday’s surge in cases is linked to “community spread,” rather than congregated settings like nursing homes and jails. And 97% of cases are from infections in which the specimen was collected between June 15 and June 23, which according to the Department of Health means that the increase was not linked to a “delay”, which has plagued case data in recent weeks.
Fred’s in Tigerland will host a coronavirus testing site Thursday for college students and staff working at nearby bars.
About 7.6% of all tests tested positive Tuesday, which the Health Department said is below a goal of 10%. But the rate is uneven across the state. The Acadiana health region had a rate of about 12%, while the New Orleans region had a rate of 6.3% and the higher Baton Rouge had 6.7%.
State health officials say it is difficult to attribute the increase in cases to specific events, although the state has confirmed some high-profile outbreaks, such as one in Tigerland bars where more than 100 were infected and others at graduation parties in New Orleans. But officials have not linked the growing number of cases to protests against police brutality, which drew thousands of people to New Orleans, Baton Rouge and elsewhere.
Dr. Dawn Marcelle, state medical director for the Baton Rouge region, said that any event in which people do not distance themselves from each other or wear masks poses a risk of spread. But she said it is unclear whether the growing cases are of reopening businesses, people taking beach trips, protests or something else.
“I think it is a combination of factors,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just one thing.”
While Baton Rouge and New Orleans have seen a slight increase in hospitalizations and other metrics recently, the Acadiana region continued on Tuesday with an alarming increase.
The 354 new cases in the Acadiana region far outnumbered the state’s other eight health regions, representing more than a quarter of new cases across Louisiana. That represented a positive rate of 11%, above a federal guideline of 10%.
Marcelle also noted that many in the Baton Rouge region do not wear masks, echoing concerns that health officials have across the state. Health experts have urged people to wear facial covers when they are in public to reduce the spread of particles from the person wearing the mask. Marcelle implored members of the public to cover their faces, over their noses, to help limit the spread of the virus.
“This is not party politics,” said Marcelle. “This is public health.”
Staff writers Ben Myers and Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.