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COVID death count jumps after a long pause

Virus cases across Region 8 trending down
Sunday, April 18, 2021
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Leader graphic by BRIAN TRAHAN

For the first time in almost two months, the Louisiana Department of Health is reporting another COVID-19 death in Lincoln Parish.

The toll now stands at 85 verified local COVID deaths and seven more that LDH classifies as probably caused by the virus. LDH added the 85th confirmed death on Wednesday.

That was the first time the count had increased since Feb. 24.

The LDH report gives no information about any of the deceased residents, nor when the deaths occurred. The list is cumulative to when the first two COVID deaths were confirmed in the parish on April 13, 2020.

Meantime, the latest LDH cumulative numbers show COVID is no longer disproportionately affecting the Lincoln Parish Black population nearly as much as it had been last year. In fact, figures show an equal number of deaths among Black and white residents.

LDH used a combination of confirmed COVID deaths and those classified as possible COVID deaths to arrive at the even 50%. Using those numbers, 45 black residents and 45 white residents have succumbed to COVID-19 over the past year.

LDH does not break down the confirmed deaths by race.

A look back at the numbers one year later shows the first of the almost daily increases in the death toll began in late April of last year and rose steadily through mid-May. That corresponds with an almost daily rise in confirmed cases of COVID-19. During that time, Louisiana was under a stay-at-home order as its initial mitigation measure against what was then still a relatively new virus.

On July 13, Louisiana’s mask mandate took effect. At the time, Lincoln Parish showed a cumulative 442 confirmed cases of COVID and 19 deaths.

August brought the next surge of local COVID-19 deaths. As the month began, the virus had claimed 28 parish residents. By month’s end, the number was up to 40. On Aug. 4, Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state was seeing an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. He ordered Louisiana to remain in Phase 2 of reopening until Sept. 11.

Though the local numbers continued to rise, the number of days between confirmation of new deaths lengthened.

The next surge began in late November 2020 and continued through early January of this year. COVID had claimed 71 lives by Dec. 31.

By then, LDH was reporting “probable” COVID-related deaths, as well. Lincoln Parish had two.

As of Jan. 21, the death toll stood at 80 local residents. In 10 days, the parish had added four confirmed deaths and 135 more confirmed cases of COVID-19. The cumulative case total then was 2,971.

As of Friday, the case total was 3,339.One year ago, the number was 43.

But the local case count has slowed. Since April 1, only 35 new local cases have been added, down from 47 for the month of March. The pattern is generally the same across the 12 northeastern parishes, including Lincoln Parish, that make up Louisiana’s public health Region 8.

“We’re definitely trending down,” Jeff Toms, public health administrator for Region 8, said Friday.

From Jan. 1-11, the region saw 2,200 new positive cases, but from March 23-25, that number had dropped to 70, Toms said. Lincoln Parish followed that trend. For the January dates, the parish added 125 cases, but for the March dates, only six new cases.

As of Wednesday, the latest figured available, Region 8 posted 40 newly confirmed cases; nine of those appear to have been in Lincoln Parish.

COVID hospitalizations have also declined sharply, Toms said.

On Jan. 7, some 217 people were hospitalized across the region. On Wednesday, that number was 11. A spokesperson for Ruston’s Northern Louisiana Medical Center could not be reached for comment as to whether there are locally hospitalized COVID patients.

Toms said he isn’t sure what’s caused COVID to trend downward — at least for now. Officials continue to be concerned about variants, especially because “mitigation measures (like mask wearing and social distancing) appear to have backed off a little bit.”

The current COVID status “really looks good, but still the message is stay optimistically cautious and continue those mitigation measures,” Toms said.