Gov. John Bel Edwards (Photo by Wesley Muller)
Louisiana reported its largest daily increase in COVID-19 cases in three months Wednesday (July 1), with more than 2,000 tests for coronavirus coming back positive.
“This disease is coming back, and it’s coming back with a vengeance, and we better start getting serious,” said Jimmy Guidry, the state health officer.
Not all of the cases are the result of a single day of testing. Gov. John Bel Edwards said about 900 came from a backlog of tests at an out-of-state lab that got reported to the state several days later. Those tests date as far back as June 16, he said.
Still, the rate at which positive cases and coronavirus hospitalizations in Louisiana are growing is worrying. Louisiana’s daily average of new COVID-19 tests has hovered around 1,000 per day for the last few days — a level that the state last saw in early April before the statewide stay-at-home order brought infection rates down.
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The number of people in hospitals – just under 800 on Wednesday – is also the highest it has been since May 27, according to data provided by the state health agency. Seventeen more coronavirus deaths — for a total of 3,130 overall — were also reported Wednesday.
“Our trajectory suggests we are going to give more ground up,” Edwards said at a press conference Wednesday.
Louisiana saw a large increase in coronavirus testing during the month of June. The state had a goal of testing 200,000 people and nearly doubled that by testing 385,000 individuals last month, Edwards said.
But the state’s increase in cases cannot just be explained away by an increase in testing. The percentage of overall tests coming back positive has also ticked up — to 7.4 percent over the past week — indicating that there is wider spread of the virus. Almost half of the tests reported Wednesday involved people under the age of 30, according to the state health department.
Edwards said the growth in positive cases in Louisiana has caught the attention of the White House’s coronavirus task force. To combat the increase, the governor will be ramping up enforcement on businesses not complying with current restrictions on occupancy levels and employee face coverings. He said this would include more spot checks from the state health agency and the fire marshal’s office.
The governor is yet not considering reverting back to any of the previous statewide restrictions on businesses that were in place in early April, the same time coronavirus cases were reported to be this high. Instead, he encouraged residents to wear masks and stay away from businesses who don’t seem to be abiding by the current coronavirus rules. He also said people should avoid crowds over the July 4th weekend.
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“There is too much complacency, and there are people who are, quite simply, not doing what they need to do,” Edwards said.
“There is no safe, large crowd. Period,” he said.
In response to recent upticks in virus reports, three local Louisiana governments have imposed new restrictions on residents. New Orleans and Jefferson Parish are now requiring face coverings in most businesses and public settings. East Baton Rouge Parish will do the same starting on Thursday.
Edwards said he is not considering a statewide face covering mandate for the general public, in part because it hasn’t been recommended by the White House coronavirus task force. But he is supportive of the local face mask mandates that have been put in place.
The governor and federal officials are particularly concerned about the Baton Rouge region, which has seen a sharp increase in cases in recent weeks. Edwards said the state and federal government plan to ramp up testing in Baton Rouge starting next Tuesday — where they will administer about 5,000 more COVID-19 tests per day.
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