Visitors walk past face mask signs along Decatur Street in the French Quarter on July 14, 2020 in New Orleans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Louisiana set a new record Wednesday when it reported 2,802 new COVID-19 cases, that is, cases that cannot be significantly attributed to a backlog of old tests. The previous high point had been on April 2, when Louisiana reported 2,726 new COVID-19 cases.
The number backs up what Gov. John Bel Edwards and other state officials have been saying for several days — that Louisiana’s coronavirus crisis is headed in the wrong direction. Whereas Louisiana’s initial outbreak was concentrated in the New Orleans area, this second surge has spread throughout the state.
Louisiana reported one larger spike in coronavirus cases than Wednesday’s numbers, but that surge was explained away by a backlog of older tests coming from private labs. Over 3,100 new coronavirus cases were reported Monday, but the state health department said over 1,500 of those cases were based on tests from May, June and early July. It was not considered a true reflection of the daily case count.
Wednesday’s 2,800 case count can’t be blamed on a similar lag in data, said Aly Neel, spokeswoman for Louisiana’s Department of Health. Approximately 70 percent of the tests reported Wednesday were from the previous week. Almost all of them were from the previous two weeks. That is a normal timeline for the case counts that the state releases daily, Neel said.
Alex Billoux, head of Louisiana’s public health office, believes Wednesday’s count of 2,800 new infections is the highest in the state’s history, she said. Edwards warned the state could see a sharp increase in cases following the July 4th holiday, when people might be tempted to throw parties and gather in crowds. Louisiana saw a rise in cases after Memorial Day.
The state is doing a larger number of tests than it was when it hit its previous high point. Louisiana was only testing around nine people for every 10,000 residents on April 2, when it recorded its previous highest daily coronavirus infection count. On Wednesday, it was testing about 31 people for every 10,000 cases — more than three times as many people, according to data from the health agency.
The health department also reported Wednesday’s numbers later than usual — at 1 p.m. instead of noon — which could have contributed to a slight uptick in the case count, Neel said. The agency continues to pull in data until the daily count is released, meaning that some cases that would have been reported Thursday may have gotten reported Wednesday instead.
But all of the state’s other coronavirus data points to a surge in infections. The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive has hovered around 15 percent for most of July. In late May and early June, it was around just seven or eight percent, according to data from the state health agency.
“Every single indicator we have right now is bad,” Neel said.
Edwards implemented a public face-covering mandate Saturday to try and tamp down the virus’ spread, though the governor allowed parishes with lower infection rates to opt out of the restriction.
At the time of his announcement, three parishes — Red River, Grant and West Feliciana — had low enough infection rates that they could have exempted themselves. But the state health department reports that all of those parishes now exceed the accepted threshold. So, five days after the mandate was put in place, there are no parishes that can opt out of it , Neel said.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also at the highest point since early May. In Acadiana and Southwest Louisiana, they are nearly double what they were at previous high points in the pandemic. The hospitals in those areas are having to restrict the number of patients they admit and surgeries they perform in order to have capacity to deal with COVID patients, Billoux said Tuesday.
The number of deaths, 60, reported Wednesday is also higher than the state has seen since early May. In total, over 3,500 people have died of COVID-19 in Louisiana. Deaths typically follow a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations — and don’t show up immediately as the infection rates begin to rise.
Louisiana is also on track to hit a milestone Thursday, when it’s likely to cross the threshold of 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases since late March.
Edwards said that the results of the mask mandate — including whether it helps control infections — are not likely to show up for two weeks. It takes a few days from exposure to COVID-19 for an infection to show up in a person — and then another few days for a person to be tested and those results to be reported. That means there is a significant lag in the impact of any new restriction on state infection data.
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