East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome warned residents that health data show the parish trending in the wrong direction in the fight against the coronavirus, urging people not to give into "COVID fatigue."
Broome made the announcement as the parish's weekly positivity rate hit 5% after weeks of remaining below that threshold figure.
She said the rise in viral test positivity puts the parish's economy and hospital capacity at risk should the trends continue during the fall and winter months. That's when health experts have warned cases could surge again with people headed indoors.
"This is very concerning as much of our country is in the midst of the latest coronavirus resurgence," she said in the statement. "In some places, patients are being airlifted to other cities because their local hospitals are at maximum capacity."
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After narrowly missing an opportunity to win reelection to a second term Nov. 3, Broome, a Democrat, is headed to a runoff Dec. 5 with former Baton Rouge legislator Steve Carter, a Republican.
Carter's campaign said he "is also concerned about the trend especially as surrounding parishes opt to shutter bars."
"A Carter administration will follow best practices as prescribed by state, local, and federal health officials," a campaign statement says.
In her statement, Broome noted that the parish had spent weeks trying to get below the 5% figure to allow bars to reopen and resume on-premises alcohol sales.
Under state rules, parishes must have two consecutive weeks of test positivity rates of 5% or less to reopen alcohol establishments.
East Baton Rouge Parish met the state standards with health data published on Sept. 30. At that time, the most recent week of positivity data was then at 2.9%. Since then, rates have gradually ticked upward.
Bars would be forced to close again if positivity rates hit 10% or more for two consecutive weeks under state Phase 3 requirements.
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Ascension Parish hit that mark on Thursday, making it the first parish in the Baton Rouge area to have its bars closed again after re-opening.
"Even more concerning is the potential for our hospitals to become overwhelmed as we head towards the height of flu season," Broome added. "If this happens, citizens could needlessly die."
Other parishes, however, have taken a different approach on the virus and what the various health benchmarks mean for their residents.
In neighboring Livingston Parish, the Parish Council adopted a resolution without opposition on Oct. 8 calling for Gov. John Bel Edwards to lift the Phase 3 business restrictions in that parish as long as businesses follow social distancing and masking requirements.
Weekly positivity rates in the parish had jumped more than two-thirds, from 5.8% to 9.5%, during the week that the resolution was adopted, state health data show. That's well above the figures that are causing Broome concern.
Livingston Parish has not yet gotten its positivity rates down low enough for bars to have on-premises alcohol sales. The parish won't have that chance for at least another two weeks. The latest positivity figure was 10.4%.
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The positivity rate shows the share of positive tests in a given batch of testing.
Health experts say the percentage is one measure of viral spread but also an indicator of the penetration of testing efforts into the community. All things being equal, increased testing should lead to lower positivity rates as long as the rate of viral spread isn't increasing.
In addition to her warnings about the virus, Broome also offered thanks to those residents and businesses "who have taken this pandemic seriously from the beginning" as well as healthcare and other essential workers.
"In order to protect our health and keep our economy open, we must double down in our efforts by wearing a face covering, avoiding crowds, getting a flu vaccination, and getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms," she said.
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