COVID-19 testing expected to increase in Louisiana over next month
Testing for COVID-19 is expected to ramp up this month, with expanded criteria and mobile sites that can reach residents in rural communities, officials said during a Thursday press conference.
Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, Region 5 Office of Public Health director, said the goal is to administer 200,000 tests statewide in May. So far, more than 160,000 tests have been administered in Louisiana.
New guidelines suggest that more testing will help medical officials get a better grip on coronavirus and gather more information on overall infection rates, Cavanaugh said. She said hospitals, health care facilities and mobile testing sites are being encouraged to expand testing criteria as more supplies become available.
Cavanaugh said there will be no cost for the tests. One move includes potentially testing those who don’t have symptoms, but had contact with those who tested positive for it, she said.
Dick Gremillion, Calcasieu Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness director, said more information on testing locations will be announced on Monday.
Testing more people could increase the number of cases. However, it doesn’t mean businesses will be shut down for a longer period of time, Cavanaugh said. She said she doesn’t want residents to fear getting tested because of the case numbers possibly increasing.
“In reality, the decisions that are made are much more complex than case numbers,” Cavanaugh said.
About 430 people were tested at Burton Complex drive-thru site since it began in late March, Gremillion said. Thursday marked the end of the first phase of COVID-19 testing in the region, he said.
Dane Bolin, parish assistant administrator, said Hanes Corp. has donated cloth masks to be distributed to restaurants, faith-based organizations, nonprofits and other businesses needing them.
To request masks, call the Police Jury at 721-4027 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Requests can be made 8 a.m.-5 p.m. starting today until noon on Wednesday, May 6.
Masks will be handed out May 8 at The SEED Center, 4130 Ryan St., and the West Cal Event Center, 401 Arena Road, Sulphur.
Bolin said the masks can be washed and eused.
Cavanaugh said there are more than 3 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide.
“It just really speaks volumes for the magnitude of this event,” she said.
There are more than 28,000 cases statewide, and 1,862 reported deaths.
Cavanaugh said the region continues to see a slow increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, instead of a large spike.
“It definitely seems to be sort of leveled off,” she said. “Our hospitals for the most part stand ready and still have plenty of capacity to be able to care for COVID.”
Hospitals fared well this week in starting up some timesensitive medical procedures, Cavanaugh said, with patients being screened for COVID symptoms or being tested prior to surgery.
Cavanaugh said she gets the public’s frustration with the virus and related shutdowns.
“I understand everyone is tired, (but) we can’t underestimate the risk of this,” she said. “This is definitely a real threat. It is a virus that has already hurt a lot of people, and we still don’t know a lot about it.”
People are encouraged to wear a mask in public, more to reduce asymptomatic people from spreading COVID to others. Wearing gloves is not recommended over concerns people may not wash their hands as often.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said Gov. John Bel Edwards extending the stay-at-home order until May 15 caught him by surprise.
“I thought that the governor would allow more of a regional opening in some corners of the state,” Hunter said.
“We have fared far better than other parts of the state. We are dealing with the governor’s decision.”
Hunter said he voiced his opinion on extending the order to state officials. However, he doesn’t have the authority to override the governor. He said the city continues to live by Edwards’ executive order.
“I absolutely believe this pandemic is serious in nature, but I also believe Southwest Louisiana is ready to have a gradual reopening of our economy … taking the safety and the welfare of our citizens seriously,” he said.
Hunter said the city will be ready for a gradual reopening as soon as the state gives the go ahead.
Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso said he was also caught off guard by Edwards’ extension. He said the department is following the order.
“Although we’re wishing it had been a little different for our region, I’m sure a heavy heart and thoughts went into that process,” he said.
Overall crime rates have not risen during the pandemic, he said.
“It could have been much worse, given the circumstances,” Mancuso said.
The next briefing is set for 2 p.m. May 7.
Compiled by Paul Hippman / Special to the American Press