Coronavirus Update: In June, Lafayette unflattened the curve

The gist: Deaths, hospitalizations and cases are rising in Lafayette at a troubling pace. Both the parish and the greater Acadiana region are in the throes of striking rebounds that have positioned the area among the state’s hotspots.

Here’s the data, changes reported since Saturday, the beginning of the CDC week: 

  • 60,178 (+5,462) cases statewide; 3,130 (+53) deaths  
  • 5,872 (+1,013) cases in Acadiana (LDH Region 4); 212 (+6) deaths
  • 2,359 (+497) cases in Lafayette Parish; 45 (+4) deaths 

Hospitalizations have more than tripled in June. On Wednesday, 126 Covid patients were hospitalized in Acadiana (LDH Region 4), surpassing the previous peak of 125 recorded in April, at the height of the pandemic. On Tuesday, the large majority of those patients were being treated at Lafayette General Medical Center, Our Lady of Lourdes, University Hospital & Clinics, Opelousas General Health System and Iberia Medical Center.

Coronavirus killed 16 Lafayette Parish residents in June. Six died in May. Twenty died from March 28, the date Lafayette recorded its first fatality, through the end of April. 

Rising positivity points to a spread that’s not attributable to more tests. Around the city, testing sites are packed as more and more people come in for testing. Testing volume has increased, but so too has the number of positive results. Wednesday’s record spike of 201 cases represented a 13% positivity rate, a figure health officials are monitoring closely. Keeping positivity under 10% is a reopening benchmark prescribed by the CDC.

Over the last two weeks, rolling averages of cases and positivity have climbed significantly. That underscores the speed and virulence of the virus in the rebound. Local hospitals are again prepping to execute surge plans or reopen wards that were closed as the outbreak was squeezed by strict social distancing measures and wider community stake in flattening the curve. Since hitting the second phase of reopening, commerce and social activity have sparked to life and so too has coronavirus. 

Acadiana and Lafayette are among the regions leading the state’s rebound in case numbers. Health officials have pointed to large gatherings, ditching of social distancing guidelines and resistance to wearing masks as underlying causes of the rebound. In Lafayette Parish, greater than 90% of the case surge is from community spread and not congregant settings like long-term care facilities and cramped worksites. 

Political leadership and authorities in Lafayette Parish have been criticized for not taking the pandemic seriously. Numbers began rising in early June, and in that time Mayor-President Josh Guillory consistently messaged that personal responsibility would carry the day when asked whether he would enforce greater restrictions than those required by the state. Since rolling out Safe Shop, Guillory has sought clarifications in the governor’s order to the benefit of prying open the local economy further. Most of the Republican members of Acadiana’s legislative delegation signed on to a petition that would have ended the governor’s executive orders and left lockdown strategies up to local governments, according to Rep. Blake Miguez of Erath, who said in an email to The Current earlier this week that the rest of the state shouldn’t be held to the “New Orleans standard.”

New Orleans has moved more slowly to reopen than the rest of the state and requires masks be worn by both customers and workers in business settings. Acadiana now has significantly more hospitalized Covid patients than Region 1, which includes New Orleans. Jefferson Parish announced new mask requirements Tuesday. And Wednesday, East Baton Rouge Parish, another emerging hotspot, announced its own extended mask requirements.  

This is a startling reversal for Lafayette. While the case numbers and hospitalizations mirror those earlier in the pandemic, the rebound bears striking contrast with New Orleans, which was a national hotspot at the height of the pandemic. In April, when statewide hospitalizations peaked at over 2,100, Region 4 accounted for 6% of hospitalized Covid patients. Today, Acadiana accounts for 16%.