The state’s largest health system is hoping to recruit more people in Baton Rouge — especially from the 70811, 70812, 70814 and 70819 ZIP codes — to obtain free coronavirus and antibody tests so researchers can better understand the scope of the outbreak in the capital region.

Ochsner Health System started testing people July 15 for its prevalence study to determine how widespread the coronavirus has been in the Baton Rouge region. But the study, which should help to determine what percentage of 800,000 or so people in the capital area have been infected so far, needs more participation from the Black community to draw accurate conclusions.

“We really, really need the African American community to come out and be tested,” said Dr. Leo Seoane, Ochsner’s chief academic officer.

Anyone interested in participating can sign up at TestBR.org, and Ochsner will provide free transportation to and from their testing sites for whoever needs it. As an incentive, all participants will also be entered in a drawing to win $50 gift cards.

The neighborhoods that Ochsner is targeting for more testing include the Brownfields, Greendale, Merrydale, Monticello, North Sherwood Forest, Park Forest, West River Oaks and Woodcrest. Anyone 18 or older is eligible, as long as they have not previously tested positive for coronavirus.

Seoane said he hopes to enroll at least 100 more Black participants by the end of the week, which is when the study is expected to end. Ochsner has extended it before to try to get a better representative sample of Baton Rouge, as the study aims for 2,500 tests.

“You’ll really be contributing and helping us understand COVID spread in Baton Rouge,” he said.

Ochsner released the results earlier this month of another coronavirus prevalence study for Orleans and Jefferson parishes, which concluded that about 7.8% of people in the region had coronavirus. Though New Orleans was an early hot spot for the coronavirus outbreak, the Ochsner study suggested that area was a long way off from herd immunity. About 40% of the people tested in that study were asymptomatic when they were tested.

The study also revealed major disparities in the course of the disease by race and neighborhood. Of those tested, 10.3% of Black residents were positive, while 5.9% of White residents were positive for coronavirus antibodies. Residents from New Orleans East and the West Bank also showed far more incidence for coronavirus than other areas.

Federal researchers also released a study last week that said Louisiana had about 267,000 coronavirus infections — or one out of every 17 residents — by early April. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published last week in JAMA Internal Medicine, estimated that Louisiana had an infection rate of 5.8% in the spring.

The Ochsner coronavirus prevalence study is the first to specifically focus on the outbreak in the Baton Rouge region.


Email Andrea Gallo at agallo@theadvocate.com