Coronavirus file photo stock of nursing home patients

EMS personnel prepare to transport a patient from Chateau De Notre Dame on Burdette Street in New Orleans, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus has been on a sharp rise over past nine days in Pointe Coupee Parish after the outlying parish had lagged behind the Baton Rouge area for weeks in fatalities from the pandemic, new data show.

Deaths in Pointe Coupee, a rural parish with around 22,000 people, have jumped from two to 11 between April 13 and Wednesday, the parish Coroner's Office says. 

On a per capita basis, Pointe Coupee and East Feliciana parishes were in a rough tie for fastest rise in deaths since April 13 in the Baton Rouge area from the COVID-19 respiratory illness, an Advocate analysis of death data shows.

But the swift jump in the grim total of COVID-19-related fatalities doesn't reveal the full picture of what's occurring in Pointe Coupee, a parish in the northwestern part of the Baton Rouge area.

Nearly three-fourths of those deaths have been of former residents of two nursing homes in New Roads: Pointe Coupee Healthcare or Lakeview Manor, the Coroner's Office said.

Ty Chaney, chief investigator for the Coroner's Office, said almost all of the COVID-19 deaths in the parish have involved elderly residents with underlying health conditions, mirroring findings from state and federal health officials that the virus most seriously attacks the aged.

"Their immune system's already been weakened and, therefore, when they're catching it, it just makes it worse. It's harder for them to combat it," Chaney said.

Statewide, nearly 65% of the 1,473 people who have died from the COVID-19 illness were 70 or older. All but one of the deaths in Pointe Coupee were of people 70 or older, a Coroner's Office listing says.

The virus has struck nursing homes and their vulnerable populations across the nation. Nearly one-third of the deaths statewide have been of residents of nursing homes and other adult long-term care facilities, state health officials said. Through Wednesday, 205 nursing homes and other facilities in the state have reported cases. 

The state is no longer identifying nursing homes with clusters of coronavirus cases or deaths, but Lakeview Manor was identified as one of the known clusters before that reporting stopped after April 1.

Pointe Coupee Healthcare had not been previously identified, however, and Chaney said six of the parish's deaths have been of residents of that facility. Two more deaths were of residents of Lakeview Manor, he said.

Chaney added that officials at Pointe Coupee Healthcare have reported to him that at least 15 cases of coronavirus were found in the home, mainly on a single hall. He said at least four cases were at Lakeview Manor. 

Overall the parish had 84 cases through Wednesday, the state reported. 

Lakeview Manor officials could be reached immediately for comment.

Josh D'Arensbourg, regional operations director for the management company that runs Pointe Coupee Healthcare, said in a statement that the nursing home is fighting the virus "just as many nursing homes are across our state."

The home, which is licensed for 120 beds but has about 104 residents currently, continues to apply all state and federal safety recommendations and protocols and officials are speaking with regulatory agencies and the nursing home's staff, residents and their families.

"Our number one priority is to care for and protect our residents and staff," D'Arensbourg said in the statement.

On a per capita basis, Pointe Coupee has risen from nine deaths per 100,000 people to 50 deaths per 100,000 since April 13. Only East Feliciana Parish rose at a slightly faster on a per capita basis during the period with nearly 51 deaths per 100,000 people, the Advocate analysis shows.

The state average is 31.6 deaths per 100,000.

State officials have also pointed out a marked disparity in the share of black residents dying from the illnesses in nearly ever corner of Louisiana. 

In Pointe Coupee, the small number of deaths so far probably isn't enough yet for statistical significance -- the state only recently started reporting racial breakdowns in parishes with 25 or more deaths -- but so far, the handful of black residents who have died make up a group greater than the parish's overall share of African-American residents.

A little more than one-third of Pointe Coupee's residents are African Americans while 5 of the 11 COVID-19-related deaths were black residents, or 45% of the total.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.