Health officials: It’s ‘still early’ in Lafayette’s coronavirus outbreak

Dr. Tina Stefanski appears at a coronavirus press conference early in the outbreak. Photo courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

The gist: Confirmed cases continue to surge in Acadiana, reaching 274 per the Louisiana Department of Health’s noon update. A second death was officially recorded in Lafayette Parish. Health officials say we’re still two weeks away from seeing the impact of social distancing in Lafayette.

It’s not just that there are more cases; it’s how severe the cases are. In a briefing Tuesday, Dr. Tina Stefanski, the region’s top public health official, relayed that area hospitals are concerned about an increase in acuity among the confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients admitted. Many are requiring prolonged care, ICU beds or ventilators. Stefankski said she was surprised by the intensity of symptoms among patients who aren’t hospitalized, pointing out that the course of the illness is worse than the flu. 

Confirmed or pending, the number of people hospitalized in Acadiana is growing. Yesterday, Stefanski reported that well over 100 people presumed to have COVID-19 were hospitalized in Region 4, the state’s designation that includes Lafayette and most of Acadiana. Though she didn’t cite specific numbers today, she acknowledged that it is growing. Hospitals have not seen a surge that will overwhelm them, but they remain concerned about the creep of new cases showing up at their doors. 

“We’re still early into it…I know it doesn’t feel like it,” Stefanksi said, responding to questions about when we might see the effect of social distancing locally. She cautiously pegged a two-week timeline for when we might see the curve begin to bend favorably. 

What about recoveries? The state isn’t tallying regional recoveries, Stefanski said, and again she cited the Acadiana outbreak’s early stages in her explanation. She outlined the typical prognosis, pointing out that the “great majority” of people infected recover well after about seven days. The seventh or eighth day is often the turning point, however, when bad cases take a turn for the worse and require hospitalization. Higher rates of hospitalization happen among people who are already sick. 

“We have an unhealthy population in this country,” Stefanski said. 

Later this week the state will roll out some predictive modeling. It could give us a better idea of the effect of social distancing on Louisiana, though Stefanksi wasn’t sure if that data would be regionalized. 

Test results are coming back quicker. A backlog broke at one lab, Stefanski said, and most results are coming back in a couple of days, though she did acknowledge lingering delays, sometimes longer than 10 days, for some who were tested. More and faster test results will help sharpen health officials’ picture of the spread.