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Governor John Bel Edwards speaks at one of his regular media briefings on the state's COVID-19 response, Monday, May 18, 2020 at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La.

For a second consecutive day, East Baton Rouge Parish did not have a new death from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

It's another encouraging sign that, perhaps, the pandemic's sweep through the Baton Rouge area may be starting to ebb. But local and state officials continue to urge caution about taking too much from those signs and warned against letting up on social distancing measures during the extended Memorial Day weekend.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, in a Friday news conference, said he would encourage people "not to be doing a whole lot of traveling right now, quite frankly."

Edwards specifically raised the Florida coast, a popular beach spot for what is widely seen as the first holiday weekend of the summer, and said Louisiana visitors should expect to tell authorities there where they are going. 

“Let’s be careful out there. Remember, there’s still a lot of COVID out there. We are in the first phase of our opening," he said.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has said that, until there is a vaccine for the virus, the risk of infection remains even as numbers for new deaths and cases start to go down.

She, like Edwards, urged people to wear protective masks or face coverings when they go outside among people with whom they do not live.

"We hope you have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend with your family. Make sure you stay safe and make sure you mask up," she said.

Federal health officials and other experts have noted that face coverings are as protective or more so of people around the person wearing a mask as they are of person actually wearing the mask. Tiny droplets containing the virus are emitted when people speak or exhale. 

Health officials recommend people maintain at least six feet of space among one another, but, according to some analyses, activities that engage in more cardiovascular stress can result in those droplets lingering in the air beyond six feet.

Thursday was the first time that East Baton Rouge didn't have a new death from COVID-19 in two months. Friday continued that trend. But the number of parish residents who have died from the virus rose by one to 238 due to a newly reported case from early last month, the parish coroner said. 

State reporting, which lags local coroners, added six new deaths on Friday to the 12-parish Baton Rouge area, bringing the total to 514.   

Despite the declining deaths — a lagging indicator of viral spread — East Baton Rouge Parish continues to have a higher rate of positive tests than the 10% threshold that the federal government and World Health Organization recommend. 

Health experts have zeroed in on that percentage — which measures the share of positives during each day's batch of completed tests — to see if testing is penetrating enough of the population and if the incidence of the virus is dropping. 

Between Sunday and Friday, the average daily percentage of completed tests that were positive in East Baton Rouge was 12.1%. The percentage in the 12-parish area was 8%. Both rates are declining compared with past weekly averages, an Advocate analysis shows.

On Friday, East Baton Rouge added 51 new positive cases of coronavirus, bringing the parish total to 3,370 since the first positive case was found in March.

The daily tally is less than half the number of cases on Thursday, when the state incorporated more reporting from new labs that had data that was nearly two months old.

Across the 12-parish region, new cases also fell by more than half from Thursday, dropping to 79 on Friday, new state health data show. The region has had 7,129 cases since the viral outbreak was first detected. Statewide, nearly three-fourths of all cases are presumed to have recovered.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.