With new cases of the coronavirus on the rise locally, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and hospital officials urged the public to remain vigilant in mask-wearing, handwashing and social distancing — especially as Thanksgiving festivities approach. 

The plea to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 6,100 residents statewide since March, follows news last week that the parish's weekly testing positivity rate hit 5% after weeks of remaining below that key state threshold. 

There have been 550 new cases of the coronavirus in the parish over the last seven days, the highest seven-day stretch since the week ending Aug. 18, when there were 565 cases, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health. The region and the state had been largely on a plateau in recent weeks.

Rising coronavirus positivity rates in Baton Rouge raise fears about hospital capacity, mayor warns

Broome reiterated at a press conference Monday at City Hall that the region is heading in the wrong direction, and called on the public to recommit to the tried and tested mitigation strategies that previously helped stem the spread of the virus.

"We already know what to do, Baton Rouge," Broome said. "I really want to thank the majority of our residents and our businesses who continue to do the right thing to protect our health and economy."

With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, hospital officials encouraged families to congregate virtually rather than in person, but said that if they do come together for a meal, they should gather outdoors with masks at least 6 feet apart.

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"It is highly probable that, if unmasked, and sharing meals, and talking as loud as we often do at family gatherings, we will increase the spread of the virus," said Coletta Barrett, a nurse from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.

Barrett added that buffet-style serving should be avoided, and she recommended that families instead identify a server who can dish out meals while wearing a face mask and gloves. She said hosts should encourage attendees with underlying health conditions to uninvite themselves from the gathering.

The public should also seek out flu vaccinations if they haven't done so already, said Dr. Ralph Dauterive, the vice president at Ochsner Baton Rouge. Contracting the flu can weaken the immune system and make a patient more susceptible to negative outcomes from the coronavirus.

Now nine months into the pandemic, there's no doubt that much of the public is tired of the restrictions, but "we're not at the finish line yet," said Dr. Louis Minsky, the chief of staff at Baton Rouge General.

Minskey and several other hospital officials said the public shouldn't be weary to seek out medical care for illnesses beyond the coronavirus, like strokes and heart attacks, noting that emergency rooms and doctor's offices "are one of the safest places to be right now."

The nation has seen more than 100,000 new cases of coronavirus daily in recent weeks, an alarming statistic, according to Dr. Tatiana Saavedra, an infectious disease specialist from the Baton Rouge Clinic. She emphasized the importance of self-quarantining for two weeks if exposed to someone with the coronavirus.

"I just want to encourage everybody not to let your guard down," Saavedra said. "I don't want us to see another huge spike. I don't want our hospitals to get overwhelmed. I don't want our fellow health care workers to get overwhelmed because it is exhausting."

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater