Mayor-President Josh Guillory on Tuesday attributed recent increases in Lafayette Parish coronavirus cases to expanded testing, but state data does not support that explanation and a state health official who Guillory cited in his statement said the spike is "tied to our behavior."
Lafayette hospitals, meanwhile, reported an increase in coronavirus patients starting last week, reversing weeks of steady declines.
“There is clearly something happening in this parish over the last couple of weeks, and I do believe it’s tied to our behavior and our complacency in thinking that moving to Phase 2 means we are not at risk anymore,” said Tina Stefanski, the state health administrator for a seven-parish region that includes Lafayette.
Stefanski was referring to Gov. John Bel Edwards instituting his “Phase 2” reopening of the state’s economy on June 5.
Cases started increasing again in Lafayette Parish in the middle of May — weeks before Phase 2 — when the 7-day rolling average in newly reported cases suddenly doubled in the space of a week. It has continued to rise, and the rolling averages throughout past week were at levels not seen since early April. There were 293 cases reported in the two weeks before the June 13, compared with 310 cases reported from March 31 to April 13.
The positive test rate has risen steadily as well. Newly reported cases over the past 21 days represent 6% of newly reported tests. That is an increase from 3.8% during the previous three-week period. The overall positive rate has gradually increased by a margin of 15% since May 22.
Guillory, without citing any data, said the positive testing rate in Lafayette Parish “remains relatively stable.” He also said his medical advisory team, which includes Stefanski, is “in agreement that we are seeing significantly more cases because the level of testing in our parish has increased substantially.”
Guillory’s statement did not mention any other reason for the increase in cases. His spokesman did not respond to a follow-up query noting the steady increase in the positive test rate, and requesting data underlying his assertions.
Stefanski agreed that testing has expanded, but that testing capacity is not the only reason for the rise in cases.
“I think the public should be concerned and not complacent in thinking that because we are increasing in testing we are seeing this increase in numbers. There is clearly community spread,” Stefanski said. “We are seeing clusters of individuals at work sites, we are seeing spread within households, and then just spread within the community in general. All of that is concerning.”
The expansion in testing is hard to track, since the state on June 13 and again on Tuesday reported unusually large numbers of tests resulting from months-old backlogs.
Huge increases in total tests were reported on June 13 and Tuesday, accompanied by below-average case numbers, when taken as a percentage of tests. Yet those totals did not significantly affect the overall positive test rate, which on Tuesday remained at 5.1%, the same as it was on June 11.
That is a 15% increase from May 22, when the positive rate was at its lowest point. The positive rate eclipsed 5% on June 7 for the first time in 33 days. It has remained above 5% for nine of the past 10 days, including the last seven days in a row.
Stefanski agreed with Guillory’s characterization of the positive rate as “stable,” but said this refers to the fact that it remains below 10% — a common national standard for adequate testing and manageable spread. As for the steady rise since May 22, Stefanski said continued uncertainty over backlogs muddies the recent data and said more attention should be given to the raw case counts.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and other state officials have said the positive test rate is important when considering case counts, as a way to factor in expanded testing.
“Whether it’s the result of increased access to testing or not, those are significant increases. The numbers are real,” Stefanski said. “If we continue to increase at this level, it certainly seems as though we are going to have a problem in this parish.”
The new cases are beginning to show up in Lafayette-area hospitals.
Lafayette General Health on Tuesday was treating 33 confirmed coronavirus inpatients across its system, with 12 other suspected patients awaiting test results, according to spokeswoman Patricia Thompson. While that reversed a recent plateau in the low 20s as recently as last week, it is still less than half the number of patients around Easter, at the peak of the crisis.
A spokeswoman for Our Lady of Lourdes also confirmed an “uptick” since last week with 23 current coronavirus patients, but she did not provide further details.
“We are hopeful the numbers will stabilize again,” Thompson said. “It’s hard to predict if this is looking like it will be another huge spike, or if it’s just a slight increase that will once again stabilize. Nobody has the answer to that right now.”