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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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Virus Update

JBE Thursday update: strike team incoming

The gist: Once again, Gov. John Bel Edwards made an impassioned plea to the people of Louisiana, asking them to stay home and help #flattenthecurve. The current trajectory for the state hasn’t bent to promising numbers quite yet, with 510 more cases and 18 new deaths since yesterday. A 28% increase in case numbers.

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State directs healthcare providers to postpone in-person visits, transition to telehealth

On March 21 the Louisiana Department of Health directed health care providers to transition all of their visits to telehealth, “when medically appropriate and when the same standard of care can be met as an in-person visit.”

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Virus Update

JBE Wednesday update: Trump signs declaration, resources on the way

The gist: Late last night, President Donald Trump approved the major disaster declaration requested by Gov. John Bel Edwards. With the declaration signed, Louisiana has greater access to funds and resources that we desperately need to combat COVID-19.

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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

Major Disaster Declaration

JBE Tuesday update: state asks Trump for major disaster declaration

The gist: Gov. John Bel Edwards sent a letter to President Donald Trump this morning requesting a major disaster declaration for the state of Louisiana. This request comes as positive cases of COVID-29 jumped overnight by 216 for a total of 1388 cases within the state. The fast-moving illness also claimed 12 more lives overnight for a total of 46 for Louisiana.

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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.

Reader Q: Does Louisiana have any of the ’emergency-use’ coronavirus test machines that give results in an hour?

A spokesman for Cephied, the California company that developed the test, which has a detection time of about 45 minutes, confirmed to me that some of its testing machines are already in the state.

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Virus Update

JBE Monday update: Remember the 2016 Flood? COVID-19 is like that

The gist: Gov. John Bel Edwards and a team of state officials and health experts took viewer questions over the course of an hour on LPB. Sally-Ann Roberts hosted the event, providing a soothing voice while urging the state to keep #flatteningthecurve.

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Once more for those in the back: Mitigation was the talk of the evening. State officials compared Louisiana’s current situation to the 2016 floods. Sure, the area could sustain 20 inches of rain over the course of two months, but 20 inches of rain in three days? That’s the level of COVID-19 cases the state is staring down.

“No one knows how long this is going to last,” Edwards said. “Take all the information we’ve given you and use it.”

Treatments: Though testing has increased, officials say don’t look for a cure any time soon. For now, supportive care is what’s available, helping the lungs of those affected work through the muck, but there is no fully tested medication.

Cover that sneeze: A study out of Germany suggests that asymptomatic patients usually shed the virus sooner, LPB reported. The study also shows that the virus sheds itself very quickly for the first few days then tapers off after.

According to Dr. Alexander Billioux, the state’s assistant health secretary, officials should know within the next week whether the “Stay at Home” measures work.

Unemployment: The Louisiana Workforce Commission has seen a massive wave of unemployment claims — 71,000 people had filed claims as of Monday. Officials announced that the one-week waiting period would be waived for new claims.

“We’re going to get through this, we’re going to come back and we’re going to get through this together. Everyone should have hope,” Edwards reiterated. He also said the class of 2020, both high school and college, will see their celebrations happen in the future, though he wasn’t quite sure what those celebrations would look like.

LPB also announced a new broadcasting structure, adding a block from 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. that focuses on middle and high school social studies content. Younger kids can refer to PBS Kids’s award-winning lineup.

Key takeaways: Don’t be a spreader. Stay away from others. Exercise. Hike. Read a book. We’re in this for the long haul.

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.