Community spread of coronavirus confirmed in Lafayette

The gist: Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Lafayette have ticked up since the first two announced late last week. Officials have confirmed that community spread – infection without a traceable origin — has been detected among the nine cases reported thus far. 

This was expected. Announcing Lafayette’s first two cases on March 18, Dr. Tina Stefanski, the top public health official for the region, said evidence of community spread was not yet found, but she indicated that it was bound to happen. LCG Communications Director Jamie Angelle confirmed community spread in Lafayette Parish to reporters this afternoon, citing a conversation he had with Dr. Doug Clement, an emergency medicine physician at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center. 

“We suspected that before, but now we have documentation,” Stefanski said in interview Monday, adding it’s believed there is community spread throughout the state. Her colleagues in New Orleans are overwhelmed, she said, adding that the presence of community spread underscores the importance of the governor’s directive to stay home.

We still don’t really know the extent of COVID-19’s presence in Lafayette. That’s in part because Lafayette has lagged on testing, Stefanski noted.

New Orleans is far and away the state’s epicenter for the pandemic. As of publication, Louisiana has reported 1,172 of confirmed COVID-19 infections, the vast majority of which are in the New Orleans area.  

As Lafayette catches up on testing, it’s likely we’ll see many more cases. Since opening a central screening at the Cajundome last Wednesday, screeners have sent off 447 samples for coronavirus testing. Patients at the Cajundome site, whittled down first by a telephone screening process set up through LCG’s 311 operation, are among the most likely to test positive for the virus. Many more likely candidates are sent away, in the event they aren’t considered high risk and thus meet the criteria for testing. 

“We saw this exponential growth in New Orleans. We cannot allow that to happen in Acadiana,” Stefanki said.

Commercial labs have tested hundreds more from this area, but exact figures are unavailable. For context, Louisiana Department of Health reports 4,314 tests completed in commercial labs, out of 5,948 total administered statewide.

CDC guidelines reserve tests for at-risk cases. Older people and people with underlying medical conditions like type II diabetes and heart disease are given preference.

What does this all mean? This was a foregone conclusion for health officials. While the glut of new confirmations in Lafayette has yet to land as predicted, expectations remain that this area will continue to see a rise. It’s important to keep in mind that confirmations tell us relatively little about the number of actual infections, considering that tests are given on a constrained basis.