Louisiana: 5 numbers that explain our coronavirus outbreak right now

State moves ahead in most cases per capita

New Orleans Mask
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)

There’s a lot of data getting released about Louisiana’s coronavirus outbreak each day. It can be overwhelming. Here’s a few numbers we’ve cherry picked to help give you a better understanding of what’s going on during this pandemic — or at least what’s going on this week. 

Number one in the country for coronavirus cases

This week, Louisiana became the state with the most coronavirus cases per capita since the pandemic started. Arizona, New York, Florida and New Jersey round out the top five, according to The New York Times

“The per capita ranking should be an alarm bell for everyone to fully understand just how serious this pandemic is here in Louisiana,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards at a press conference Tuesday.

Louisiana is the only state in the country to have two large surges of coronavirus so far. It had one eruption that started in March followed by a second increase that started in June.

Other states with high infection rates at the beginning of the pandemic — including New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey — implemented face-covering mandates weeks before Louisiana did and opened up businesses more slowly, according to experts. So far, they’ve had greater success in keeping the virus at bay since their initial spikes in the spring.

1,583 hospitalizations — nearly the same as a week ago 

One bright spot in coronavirus news is that the number of people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 hasn’t moved much in Louisiana since last week. It was 1,583 Tuesday, up just two cases from last Wednesday — when it was 1,581.

This means that the number of really sick residents isn’t going up — and will hopefully start to fall, Edwards said Tuesday. “Basically over the last six days our hospitalizations have been flat,” he said.

Last week, the governor had been worried that hospitals might run out of capacity in their intensive care units.

Four businesses shut down

The Edwards administration shut down four bars for violating coronavirus restrictions. It was the first time the state government has cracked down on businesses that weren’t following the pandemic rules.

The state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control suspended the permits of bars in Lake Charles, Grand Isle, Gonzales and Harvey. The permits could be restored at an upcoming hearing Aug. 5 or suspended for an additional month, according to Louisiana State Fire Marshal Butch Browning.

The establishments had been given at least three warnings to get in line with the current regulations, Browning said. They are the only businesses that have been punished so far, but state officials have visited 5,000 locations across the state checking for violations since mid-May.

The fire marshal said, in general, his office is seeing a lot more compliance with the face-covering mandate put in place by the governor earlier this month. “I think the message is getting out on mask-wearing,” he said. 

70 percent of former salaries reimbursed

Edwards said a new Congressional proposal for unemployment payments would not be workable in Louisiana because the state’s unemployment system can’t handle it.

Republican leaders in Congress have suggested that the federal government cut federal unemployment benefits from $600 to $200 per week for a couple of months, and then base unemployment payments off people’s former salaries moving forward.

Later this year, Republicans would like people filing for unemployment to receive a maximum of 70 percent of their previous incomes, but Edwards said Louisiana’s unemployment system isn’t set up to work with variable payments.

The governor also said that he didn’t think $200 per week of federal unemployment compensation would be enough for workers. That would bring the maximum amount of available unemployment in Louisiana to just under $450 per week. It’s currently almost $850 per week.  

Edwards also said the federal government should focus on shoring up states’ unemployment trust funds. Louisiana and many other states’ funds are headed toward insolvency. If the state’s trust fund becomes too depleted, the state starts imposing extra taxes and charges on businesses automatically. The governor said those extra expenses for businesses should be avoided.

“This is obviously not a good time to be imposing additional taxes and surcharges on employers,” he said.

More than 500,000 coronavirus tests in July 

Residents living in Louisiana are more likely to be tested than almost anywhere else in the country. The state is third — behind New York and Alaska – when it comes to testing its population, according to Johns Hopkins University

Over 26,000 tests have been administered for every 100,000 residents in the state, according to the university’s data. Edwards also said Louisiana has increased its testing on a per capita basis in July more than any other state. It conducted 547,000 coronavirus tests in July, more than doubling its goal of doing 200,000 tests this month.

But as testing has increased, turnaround times for results have also become longer. That makes the testing less effective because people — particularly who are asymptomatic but test positive —  don’t know quickly enough that they have to isolate.

“We are going to work to get those turnaround times down,” Edwards said.