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Signs out front of St. James Place, a retirement home that's been put on lockdown for the next 30 days to safeguard residents against the coronavirus, let people driving up know what's going on Monday March 16, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. If people are allowed to come on to the campus, then staff are taking their temperatures before allowing them to proceed.

State leaders on Thursday affirmed its previous total of six coronavirus clusters — and named two more — even as they said they expect that number to grow, especially within communities housing the elderly who are at the highest risk of serious complications if sickened by the virus.

The St. James Place home in Baton Rouge and the Vista Shores Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in New Orleans joined the list Thursday. St. James Place had a resident and two additional workers test positive for the respiratory disease COVID-19, more than doubling the number of cases at the community. Vista Shores has had four residents test positive.

The state previously identified clusters at Lambeth House in New Orleans, where at least 11 have died and more than 40 were confirmed positive; at Chateau D'Ville in Donaldsonville, where at least five residents were infected; and at Chateau de Notre Dame in New Orleans, which had at least two cases.

On Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Health said they had identified six such clusters at elder care facilities, but named only three of them. Officials said the recent growth in cases of nursing home residents and involvement by multiple healthcare providers will increase lag time between identifying clusters and releasing that information publicly.

Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary of the Office of Public Health, said his office has turned to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologists for help finding and isolating clusters, which he expects will continue to grow throughout the state.

“If this trajectory continues, this is going to become increasingly difficult,” he said Thursday hours after Louisiana logged its largest rise in new COVID-19 cases.

Health officials define a cluster as two or more cases that appear connected in a facility.

Management at St. James Place said Thursday evening an independent living resident tested positive, hours after announcing that two additional employees tested positive for the respiratory disease COVID-19, bringing the total at the upscale retirement community in Baton Rouge to five.

A nursing home resident there was hospitalized earlier this month and later tested positive for the illness, followed by an employee who was not a care provider. It wasn't immediately known where the additional two employees worked and when they tested positive.

Karl Koch, whose father is a 93-year-old St. James Place resident and retired LSU professor, faulted lack of tests being done at facilities, as well as federal health agencies’ response to blunt the spread within those communities.

He said management at St. James Place is doing what they can to prevent further transmission, but without outside help, he worries of outcomes similar to Lambeth House and other deadly outbreaks in Washington state.

“Our state government doesn't have these resources — only the federal government has the ability to handle a crisis like this, and so far they have failed us,” he said.

As reported by The Times Picayune | The Advocate on Wednesday, four residents of Vista Shores Assisted Living and Memory Care Facility in New Orleans had tested positive for the virus. All four showed symptoms and were taken to hospitals where they tested positive.

As of Thursday, two of the four remained in the hospital. The other two had been discharged, one to a family member and the second back to Vista Shores.

Officials at Vista Shores said they had subsequently conducted tests on each resident and employee, though the results of those tests were not yet known.

The disease has also made its presence felt in other sectors of the senior citizen community.

Christopher Homes, a nonprofit housing ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans serving low-income seniors and disabled persons, reported that residents or staff members at nine of its 21 sites in the New Orleans area either had tested positive or were awaiting test results.

This week, a 73-year-old resident at Legacy Nursing and Rehabilitation of Port Allen died after contracting the virus. No other cases have been reported at the facility.

Many nursing and retirement facilities took drastic steps to keep the virus outside their walls, including limiting visitors and, in some cases, requiring residents to stay on campus.

Food service and other employees at St. James Place have started wearing masks and have regularly been checking people’s temperatures. Earlier this month, management also restricted residents from leaving the 52-acre campus, aside from going to medical appointments.

The community’s CEO wrote in a message to residents Thursday that the elder-community is in dire need of face masks.

The Health Department plans to update the number of clusters in Louisiana during its afternoon update on statewide coronavirus cases.


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad