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Author: Christiaan Mader

Christiaan Mader founded The Current in 2018, reviving the brand from a short-lived culture magazine he created for Lafayette publisher INDMedia. An award-winning investigative and culture journalist, Christiaan’s work as a writer and reporter has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Offbeat, Gambit, and The Advocate.

Slow, limited testing makes Lafayette’s coronavirus data murky

The gist: The COVID-19 pandemic spits out dizzying amounts of data, and it’s hard to get a grip on exactly what it points to. Confirmed cases, we’re told, remain an unreliable datapoint while public health experts try to forecast a peak. We’re looking too far in the past to know what it’s coming. 

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First coronavirus deaths in Acadiana announced, more confirmations to come

The gist: Somber and prayerful, Mayor-President Josh Guillory lowered his head and reported Lafayette’s first COVID-19 death today. The victim’s age and identity were not revealed. More fatalities will be announced shortly, once families are notified, he said, setting grave expectations for the coming days. Deaths in Acadia Parish and St. Martin Parish were also confirmed today by the Louisiana Department of Health.

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“This is a sobering reminder of how serious this situation is,” Guillory said in a briefing with reporters. He looked abroad to Italy and down the road to New Orleans — where hospitals have been overwhelmed with floods of new cases — to hint at what could happen if many Lafayette residents remain personally complacent in their efforts to stymie the disease. The administration is receiving a high volume of complaints about neighbors flouting government urgings and societal pleas to stay home and take the pandemic seriously. Guillory and his spokesman, Communications Director Jamie Angelle, bemoaned their powerlessness to coerce the public into social distance. They would force people to stay apart if they could, Angelle said, but they can’t. (Sheriff Mark Garber said earlier this week that residents should call 911 to report blatant disregard for the governor’s stay-home order.)

Lafayette’s confirmed infections spiked today to 44. That’s a hefty increase over yesterday’s tally but remains an unreliable indicator of the scale of the local spread of COVID-19. Officials widely believe the number of actual cases far outstrips the number of detected infections, a pattern seen universally in areas affected by the disease. Hundreds of tests from the Cajundome screening site alone are still outstanding or unreported, and the results of those tests — sent to a variety of different commercial labs — can take more than 10 days to return. There are even more samples sent out of clinics and doctors’ offices, a handful at a time, that aren’t counted in the local tally. Lafayette’s testing operations lag roughly a week behind New Orleans, which surged to a pandemic total of well over 1,000 confirmed cases in the last few days alone. More than 20,000 tests have been completed statewide to date, the vast majority in commercial labs. 

St. Martin Parish saw three deaths today, among them a man in his early 40s. Acadia reported one. Fatalities skew higher among patients over the age of 70. Of the state’s 119 reported deaths, 69 were in that age group. 

Guillory’s administration is trying to get ahead of the economic impact. Unemployment claims are astronomical, mirroring the unprecedented millions of claims filed nationally. He announced business information resources going online next week. But locally, leaders are turning to the $2.2 trillion rescue package signed by the president today for relief. A webinar hosted by a coalition of regional economic agencies and chambers of commerce unpacked the details of the massive CARES Act, which passed out of the House of Representatives today and zipped to President Donald Trump’s desk for a signature. 

LCG has been proactive, tactically. Last week, LCG spearheaded a 311-based pre-screening process that has largely worked in streamlining the use of a still-thin supply of tests available to metro Lafayette. Guillory offered up hope that rapid tests were on the way but pointed to a long timeline, still a week or more away from arrival. On Friday, Guillory relayed discussions about transitioning seniors who have recovered from the virus out of hospital care among the administration, Lafayette’s two hospital systems and Lafayette-based LHC Group, one of the nation’s largest home-health providers. New Orleans has taken dramatic steps in the face of a near-nightmare, moving to use its convention center for hospital overflow. 

LCG has not spelled out its plan to get ahead of a possible public health crisis. Public statements since the crisis have noted ongoing conversations with state officials, hospital leadership and the nonprofit community but without many specifics; the administration has instead appealed to the fluidity of the situation in responding to questions about those plans. 

Hospital capacity has not yet been maxed here. So far, Lafayette’s hospitals have been able to manage the stream of patients, taking steps to conserve their supply of protective gear and other equipment. We don’t know how many ventilators the region has, as hospital representatives won’t disclose that information; Gov. John Bel Edwards has requested thousands from the federal government. Hospital leadership, in conjunction with the regional public health office, are preparing a regional surge plan to sort out how they could coordinate a response in the event of an avalanche of new cases. While most cases of COVID-19 aren’t fatal, the strain on hospital resources can lead to more deaths. Social distancing and other measures are efforts to ensure healthcare resources aren’t exhausted by a sudden crush of infections. 

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Link: Historic coronavirus relief package to send money to residents passed by U.S. House

The House approved the sweeping measure by a voice vote, as strong majorities of both parties lined up behind the most colossal economic relief bill in the nation’s history. It will ship payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, bolster unemployment benefits, offer loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses large and small and flush billions more to states, local governments and the nation’s all but overwhelmed health care system.

Source: Historic coronavirus relief package to send money to residents passed by U.S. House | Coronavirus | nola.com

Link: To prep for overflow of cononavirus patients, beds moved in New Orleans convention center 

Louisiana is planning to put more than 1,100 beds in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to ease the strain on New Orleans area hospitals.

The move, which will see 120 beds in the convention center by the end of this weekend, is the linchpin of a plan to boost the number of hospital beds, health care workers, ventilators, protective equipment and other resources available in Louisiana.

Source: To prep for overflow of conroavirus patients, beds moved in New Orleans convention center | Coronavirus | nola.com

Pressed into unprecedented duty, schools wrestle with how to feed Louisiana’s children during a pandemic

At least 32 Louisiana school districts will no longer hand out grab-and-go food boxes to school-age children from school distribution sites, a large chunk of the state’s school-based food supply chain.

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Coronavirus lockdowns and high anxiety: Has teletherapy’s moment arrived?

State regs and cultural aversion warded some counselors away from teletherapy. COVID-19 is changing that.

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Link: This is how coronavirus testing works at Louisiana’s state-run lab 

The Louisiana lab is able to test 200 to 250 samples per day and can turn around results in about three days. So far, about 40 percent of the samples tested at the facility have come back positive for COVID-19, according to the Office of Public Health. That’s much higher than the overall positive rate for tests in the state, which stood at 16% as of Tuesday.

Source: This is how coronavirus testing works at Louisiana’s state-run lab | Coronavirus | nola.com

Link: Coronavirus cases grew faster in Louisiana than anywhere else in the world: UL study 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Louisiana grew faster in the first 14 days than anywhere else in the world, data shows. That includes Spain and Italy, which have produced nightmarish scenes as hospitals have become overrun.

Source: Coronavirus cases grew faster in Louisiana than anywhere else in the world: UL study | Coronavirus | theadvocate.com

What does ‘essential’ mean, anyway?

The gist: Now that we’re officially in stay-at-home mode — the governor’s order took effect at 5 p.m. Monday afternoon — it remains somewhat unclear what is and what isn’t considered an essential business. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order cited federal guidelines, and you can find that list is here. But confusion nevertheless abounds. 

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Most essential jobs are what you would expect. Healthcare and first responders, pharmacists, law enforcement, air traffic controllers and grocery store employees probably come to mind. If you thought about it a little bit longer, you might come up with others like postal workers and laundromats. The list is much bigger than that. 

The rest are a little bit harder to pin down. The governor does spell out a number of businesses that are explicitly closed, building on previous proclamations: amusement parks, museums, theaters, zoos, gyms, barber shops, tattoo parlors and strip clubs. Most retail is closed up, save convenience stores, but car dealers are allowed to remain open. 

There is some wiggle room. The order has a blanket provision covering anything not explicitly laid out. Any businesses not covered can stay open if they observe social distancing policies, keep employees a minimum of 6 feet apart, and limit rolls to 10 people or fewer. By design or otherwise, the grey area allows some breathing room for commerce to continue. 

The order has halted some major employers. Lafayette’s Stuller Inc. announced ahead of the 5 p.m. deadline that it would stop operations and pay its employees for the duration of the shelter order. Others are continuing to mull where they fit in. 

Local authorities will enforce the order. Sheriff Mark Garber says the public can report violations via 911, saying his approach is to appeal to “common sense” first before escalating a clampdown. 

“The spirit of this order is to save lives,” Garber says. 
Are you working for a non-essential business but still required to go to work? Let us know. You can fill out this form anonymously.

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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. 

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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.

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