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People are tested at a mobile Coronavirus testing site at the St. Anthony of Padua Church on Canal Street in New Orleans, La. Thursday, May 21, 2020. Testing will take place again on Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or until tests run out. As part of expanded testing guidelines It is not necessary to be showing symptoms or have a known history of exposure to COVID-19.

Louisiana has confirmed its first death from a rare coronavirus-related inflammatory condition in children and young adults, officials said Wednesday, as the state sees continued improvement on some key virus testing and hospitalization metrics.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the state has confirmed 13 total cases of the multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, up from 11 reported by the state Health Department last week. He said one young person -- between the age of 0 and 19 years -- has died in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Department of Health has alerted providers about the new condition, which has a host of unknowns. While its cause is not known, many of those with the condition had COVID-19 or were exposed to someone with the virus.

“It can be serious and it can be deadly,” Edwards said. “But most children who are diagnosed with this condition do get better with appropriate medical care.”

The condition causes different body parts of those under the age of 21 to become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs. Of the 13 cases in Louisiana, the median age is 11 years old and four are currently hospitalized, while eight have been discharged. Seven are African American and three are white.

The state Health Department will include data on the condition on its dashboard with weekly updates, officials said.

Edwards said he will announce early next week whether the state will enter phase two of the state’s reopening on June 5, which would be 21 days after entering the first phase of 25% capacity at most businesses.

While the state is tracking “reasonably well” on key metrics -- like the percentage of tests coming back positive and hospitalizations--Edwards declined to say whether the state is currently meeting benchmarks needed to continue reopening. He said health officials were crunching the numbers and that he would dive into the data over the weekend.

“Up to now we haven’t seen anything that indicates we have a surge in cases,” Edwards said. The state’s reopening began May 15, and it often takes 7-14 days before people start experiencing symptoms after contracting the virus.

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The state is expected to hit a key benchmark on testing in the month of May -- deploying 200,000 diagnostic tests -- and currently sits at about 180,000 tests, Edwards said. And over the last week, the state has averaged 5.5% of tests coming back positive--well below a 10% benchmark identified by the World Health Organization. 

Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for the state’s Office of Public Health, told lawmakers in a confirmation hearing that the state has made strides in surging testing into parts of the state that have not had it. Only three parishes remain that have less than 2% of the population tested, and the state has provided aid to nursing homes and other congregant settings to help test all residents.

But after announcing last week that three crawfish farms where migrant workers lived in dorm-like facilities have experienced outbreaks, the Edwards administration has refused to provide any more information about outbreaks at the facilities. Workers on temporary visas power the state’s crawfish industry, where they come to rural crawfish farms and processing facilities to live in close quarters and work for the season, and health experts and those close to the industry said it was not surprising the virus exploded there.

Billioux said the state didn’t want to incentivize companies to hide outbreaks from the state. The agency last week announced that 100 workers had tested positive across three facilities, many of them without showing symptoms.

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He also said the state likely will not provide such information in the future, because officials want to make sure those who test positive and employers “feel comfortable” to report outbreaks to the state.

Those congregant settings largely don’t pose a risk to the public, and Edwards said rising cases at such facilities won’t necessarily thwart the state’s reopening.

But what might pose problems is a lack of masks and far more face-to-face interactions among the public, Edwards indicated, especially over the Memorial Day weekend. He said he hopes people are practicing social distancing but he said he’s concerned about a lack of masks.

“Over time it’s human nature to think we’re past this,” Edwards said. “Well we’re not past it. I hate when people say will it come back in the fall? It hasn’t left.”


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com