Louisiana leads U.S. in COVID testing

Tests administered unevenly

While Louisiana’s COVID-19 case count appears to be leveling off, Governor John Bel Edwards Tuesday warned of taking slightly better numbers to mean infection rates are diminishing. The Louisiana Department of Health posted 1,417 additional Coronavirus cases since Monday, 400 less than the 1,857 new cases posted the day before.

“We are seeing early signs that the curve is starting to flatten, though we can’t say that in all confidence,” Edwards admitted in the daily press conference at his Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness miles east of the Capitol. “What this means is, we have to continue to do the things that have caused the slowing of the spread, and that’s the mitigation measures, the stay-at-home order. You want to see our numbers spike, you stop those mitigation measures, and I promise you they will be right back up there. This week is still going to be difficult and next week will be difficult.”

Most distressing, Louisiana COVID-19 deaths continue unabated. From Monday to Tuesday, 70 more Louisianans died, the largest single one-day jump. That brings the state total to 582 deaths out of 16,284 confirmed cases of the virus. Private and state laboratories have completed 74,655 tests.

“We have ramped up testing and we are now Number One in the country in per capita testing,” the governor added. “But we’re not satisfied with that. In fact, we want a lot more testing and a lot more testing in rural areas especially.”

Of the state’s 75,000 administered tests, Orleans Parish commands the lion’s share of 20,000. Of those, 5,000 New Orleaneans have tested positive so far. In northwest Louisiana, diagonally farthest from Orleans, Caddo Parish is the next most tested area with just over 12,000 residents swabbed for the virus, resulting in almost 800 COVID cases. Next, but far down the list in testing, is East Baton Rouge where just over 5,000 citizens have been tested, resulting in over 900 confirmed infections. Three weeks into testing for Coronavirus, Louisiana’s capitol city has been tested at half the rate of Shreveport-Bossier and only 25 percent of that in New Orleans.

“Orleans, unfortunately, was at the forefront of this outbreak,” explains Dr. Alex Billioux, Assistant Secretary of Public Health at Louisiana’s Department of Health. “We consolidated two FEMA sites in New Orleans, put most of our resources there, and we just have more hospitals and healthcare resources in the greater New Orleans area that are doing in-house testing. We’re, looking at how we reallocate resources to do more adequate testing across the state especially in rural areas. We want to make sure that wherever COVID is, we’re seeing it, identifying it, isolating it, and reducing the spread.”

Dr. Billioux, a graduate of Johns Hopkins, says a problem in Baton Rouge has been the bottleneck in administering the tests and confirming results.

“There’s a challenge we’ve had nationally of the swabs that go in the nose,” Billioux says. “We’re looking at alternative swab types and using those. That would certainly increase our ability to test more and faster in the capital and in rural areas.”

The New Orleans population will nearly touch 400,000 in this year’s census, while Baton Rouge is expected to post 226,000 residents. Shreveport has 188,000. While Shreveport’s tests-to-positives ratio is 7 out of 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19, New Orleans is 25 out of 100. But Baton Rouge, in testing thus far, registers 17 out of 100, much closer to the Crescent City in positive results.

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