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Researchers: New COVID-19 cases increasing

Governor warns against slacking off on masks, social distancing
Friday, June 19, 2020
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Cases of COVID-19 are increasing statewide and in the Lincoln Parish-inclusive health Region 8, even after accounting for the backlog in testing for the respiratory illness.

That’s the conclusion of an analysis released Thursday by the independent Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

“The cases are definitely increasing throughout the state,” PAR Policy Director Steven Procopio said. “It’s not a cumulative thing. It’s a large enough increase to register as an increase.”

According to the PAR, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Region 8 are higher per capita than any other region.

“Y’all are having more cases per 100,000 people than everyone else,” Procopio said.

The Region 8 area includes Lincoln, Union, Jackson, Ouachita, Franklin, Richland, Morehouse, Caldwell, Madison, East Carroll, West Carroll and Tensas parishes.

Though the Louisiana Department of Health has been updating COVID-19 statistics daily, it didn’t do so on Thursday, saying only that it was studying the numbers. As of Wednesday, there were 48,634 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, 259 of which are in Lincoln Parish. However, both the state and local numbers are cumulative, meaning they date back to when the data was collected in March.

PAR’s analysis represents only new cases, and covers the time between June 4 and June 17. Louisiana moved into Phase Two of reopening on June 5. Phase Two basically allows larger groups of people to congregate and is supposed to continue at least until June 26.

According to PAR, the number of cases per 100,000 people statewide vacillated — albeit slightly — until June 13. Then numbers jumped significantly.

By Thursday, Louisiana had gone from 8.9 new cases per 100,000 residents on June 4 to 14 cases per 100,000 residents.

“The upward trend needs to be watched by citizens and policymakers as we move forward,” the PAR report says.

State health officials and Gov. John Bel Edwards have generally attributed the increases in confirmed cases to more testing being done, and to dumps of backlogged test results that come in periodically.

But “as you add more testing, the positive rate should be coming down,” Procopio said.

Louisiana is seeing some of that, but not nearly enough over the last 14 days.

“I don’t think it’s just that they were testing more,” Procopio said.

During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Edwards seemed to agree.

“We’re seeing more increase in the number of cases than the testing suggests we should,” Edwards said.

“Every Louisianan needs to do a real gut check on whether they’ve been slacking off on precautions,” the governor said. “We can very easily see the gains we’ve made evaporate. … The numbers we’ve been seeing over the last couple of days proves the point, we can’t be complacent.”

Edwards was not reacting specifically to the PAR study, but to trends reported by the LDH.

PAR’s 14-day trend line shows every state health region except the Capital Region, which includes Baton Rouge, has more cases now than before. The Capital Region has plateaued, PAR found. The Shreveport Region has moved from a plateau to an increase, while Region 8 has increased throughout the period.

On Thursday, Region 8 has 25 new cases per 100,000 people, while the Shreveport region saw only 14 new cases per 100,000 residents.

“Monroe, clearly in my opinion, that region has the biggest problem,” Procopio said.

The PAR analysis also shows patients on ventilators have decreased significantly and have stayed low.

“That’s a very good thing,” Procopio said.

Hospitalizations are also down over the last 14 days, but have begun a slight uptick since Monday.

Procopio said PAR simply wants Louisianans to be informed.

“What PAR really wants is for people to really be aware of this data,” he said.