BRstgabrielcluster.050720. 0020 bf.JPG

Elayn Hunt Correctional Center prison Wednesday May 6, 2020, in St. Gabriel, La. Scientists say the excessive amount of cases at the prison suggest the Coronavirus could be more widespread in the population, with so many people at the prison being asymptomatic but still testing positive.

The area around St. Gabriel is continuing to hold the top spot for cases of the novel coronavirus in Louisiana since the outbreak began to be detected in early March.

The eastern Iberville Parish census tract that includes St. Gabriel and female state prisons has had 217 cases of the viral infection and is the only tract in the state to have more than 200 cases, the Louisiana Department of Health reported Wednesday.

The area, which is home to facility clusters that inflate numbers for the broader area, added eight new cases since the state's last update on May 17, when St. Gabriel was also the top tract in the state.

At the same time, the rate of positive tests for new coronavirus cases continued to fall this week in the region compared with prior weeks, an improving sign even as testing numbers rebounded following server problems over the weekend and as new cases inched upward in the Baton Rouge region. 

According to a four-day average tallied since Sunday, East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes and the 12-parish region as a whole all have positive test rates that are about half the 10% threshold recommended by the federal government and World Health Organization, an Advocate analysis shows.

State officials are looking toward that guideline as a sign that testing is penetrating deep enough into the population and viral spread is at a level that can be traced and contained. The percentage measures the number of positive tests compared with the number of tests completed. The lower the positive rate, the better.

Between Sunday and Wednesday, the positive rate in East Baton Rouge averaged 6.4%, a significant improvement from last week when the seven-day average was nearly twice as large and above the federal benchmark.

Though new cases in the 12-parish Baton Rouge area have started to increase in recent days, longer term trends appear to show deaths are slowing in the region and new hospitalizations continue to drop.

On Wednesday, East Baton Rouge Parish added 29 more cases but no new deaths. This is the third time in seven days the parish has not seen a new death from the COVID-19 illness after having daily deaths for two months.

In total, 3,491 people have tested positive in East Baton Rouge, and 242 people have died since the outbreak began. 

Across the 12-parish Baton Rouge area, 69 cases and three more deaths were added, with new deaths in Pointe Coupee and Tangipahoa parishes, the state reported.

While cases are up somewhat in the region, new deaths have not broken double digits in nine days. A three-day rolling average for new deaths in the region is near a low since late March at 3.7 deaths per day, the Advocate analysis shows.

Health experts have said that deaths are a lagging indicator of the virus's spread and usually follow behind hospitalizations by two to three weeks. Across the state, more than 77% of people who have tested positive for the virus are presumed to have recovered through Sunday.

Census tract data provide a detailed look at areas of the state smaller than the parish-level. The census bureau uses them for demographic estimates. The areas are irregularly shaped and don't have consistent population sizes but generally average around 4,000 to 5,000 people.

The Donaldsonville tract, with 124 cases, is the only other tract in the Baton Rouge area with more than 100 cases. The area, which also contains a case cluster, added seven new cases since May 17, bumping up its rank among tracts with cases in the state to 10th most. The latest state census tract data are through Sunday.

In St. Gabriel, Elayn Hunt Correctional Center and Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women at Hunt have had a combined 176 cases, the state Department of Corrections says.

In Donaldsonville, the Chateau D'Ville nursing home has had 45 residents and 12 staffers infected through Monday. Twelve residents have died, the state reported.

Across the state, 443 new cases were found on Wednesday, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 34,497 people. So far, 2,617 people have died from the COVID-19 illness, an increase of 21 deaths since Tuesday.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.