Yes, community spread of coronavirus is still active in Lafayette

A reader asked this question: Did I hear the mayor-president correctly that Lafayette Parish has no more community spread?

The short answer: Yes, he did say that, but that’s not accurate. Community spread is still happening in Lafayette Parish but not to the extent seen earlier in the pandemic. While outbreaks at crawfish production facilities and nursing homes are the primary drivers of new cases in the Acadiana region, spontaneous community spread remains a risk.

“We do still have community transmission in Lafayette and in every parish in Acadiana,” says Dr. Tina Stefanski, the Louisiana Department of Health’s top official for the Acadiana region. 

Spikes at crawfish production sites have driven recent increases in Lafayette and Acadia Parish. Most of those cases are in Acadia Parish, Stefanski says. Earlier this week, The Acadiana Advocate reported an 150% increase in new cases over two weeks in Acadia Parish, largely associated with outbreaks among clusters of workers living in close quarters at production facilities. LDH reported 100 coronavirus infections stemming from clusters at three different crawfish production facilities in Acadiana. 

Health officials are concerned clusters could spark other spread. Workers at crawfish sites or at nursing homes may move around or come in contact with the broader public, not knowing they’re contagious, and cause flare-ups in other areas, Stefanski says. That’s forced LDH to move aggressively to contain the outbreaks by testing workers at those sites comprehensively. It’s not clear how, in such tight quarters, infected workers are able to be sufficiently isolated while they recover, but Stefanski says the “work sites” have been effectively partitioned. 

“We are definitely still seeing unrelated infections. We have more of a potential now as a result of these congregant setting outbreaks,” Stefanski says, pointing out the broader risk cluster outbreaks might pose. 

On Tuesday, Mayor-President Josh Guillory said, erroneously, that Lafayette Parish had no community spread. He made the incorrect statement during opening remarks at Tuesday’s press briefing. Reached for clarification, LCG Communications Director Jamie Angelle tells The Current the mayor-president’s remarks were the result of a misunderstanding.

Overall, the total spread in Lafayette Parish is slowly waning. The number of new positive cases as a percent of new tests is trending downward, albeit slowly. Well over 6% of the parish population has been tested so far, and that’s after results were reassigned to other parishes in April, lowering the number of cumulative tests on Lafayette’s tally. The percent of positive results as of May 27 is right around 4.5%, a slight decline from the beginning of the month. By comparison, Acadiana’s percent positive is 5.7% and Louisiana’s is 7.5%. 

It’s unclear how many of the new cases in Lafayette Parish stem from clustered outbreaks. LDH officials will not disclose the businesses’ names, instead identifying outbreaks at unnamed “work sites.” Asked Tuesday if he knew where the clusters were in Lafayette Parish, Guillory said he did not, insisting that he wasn’t hiding information. 

Mayor-President Josh Guillory issued the following statement in response to this report:

“Tuesday I stated that ‘we are no longer seeing evidence of community spread’ of COVID-19, based on my understanding of comments made by Dr. Tina Stefanski on our morning Medical Task Force Call. Dr. Stefanski has since clarified that ‘we are no longer seeing widespread community transmission.’ I have consistently emphasized the seriousness of this public health emergency, while acknowledging the progress we have made as a parish. I’m deeply disappointed that a certain media outlet has chosen to take my comments out of context to suggest I am downplaying the seriousness of our situation, or what the public health data shows. These are the same people who are criticizing the layoff of public employees from venues that aren’t able to operate, due to this very same public health emergency. Since the beginning, I have taken this public health emergency with utmost seriousness as I’ve displayed every single day in full public view. The people of Lafayette Parish deserve better than this kind of ‘gotcha’ journalism.”