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Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at his regular COVID-19 media briefing, Wednesday, June 10, 2020 at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. Sign language interpreter Daniel Burch is at left.

Louisiana is seeing a “concerning” rise in cases and a recent uptick in hospitalizations in recent days, state officials said Thursday, with the vast majority of new infections the result of community spread in cities across the state.

While Gov. John Bel Edwards said he is not currently considering moving backward in the phased reopening, several regions, including the Acadiana region, are experiencing steep inclines in cases, spikes in hospitalizations and other criteria officials use to decide whether to continue reopening.

“We’re seeing a rate of rise that in two weeks could make us look like Texas or make us look like Mississippi or Arkansas,” all of which have seen spiking cases, said Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for the state’s Office of Public Health.

“Flattening the curve isn’t something you do once and forget about it,” Edwards added. “We still have the disease. It’s still contagious. It is still deadly. We can easily see the gains we’ve made evaporate.”

Louisiana has experienced recent upticks in hospitalizations and rising cases at the same time total testing has taken a slight dip, according to a presentation from the Louisiana Department of Health. On Thursday, the health department did not report any new data on cases, which Billioux attributed to the agency working to “clean” data and make sure cases are put in the proper location. He said the state will resume reporting Friday.

Edwards is expected to announce as early as Monday whether the state is moving into Phase 3 of reopening. But data presented by the Louisiana Department of Health at the press conference Thursday indicates several regions aren’t meeting the “gating criteria” currently.

The governor declined to say whether he’s considering moving some regions into Phase 3 but not others.

The state Health Department repeatedly has reported its new case data with backlogs, from labs that Billioux said had glitches or are new to the state’s reporting system. Data shown Thursday, showing rising cases across the state, were cleaned up to fix the backlogs. Such issues have made it difficult for the public following the state’s public-facing dashboard to determine exactly what the state’s trajectory looks like.

Louisiana has ramped up its testing considerably in recent weeks, which can contribute to rising cases as the state discovers more coronavirus. But that rise in testing can’t explain the sheer number of new cases, and upticks in infections are coming as total testing has dipped slightly recently.

Excluding backlogs, Edwards said the state has confirmed more than 4,200 new coronavirus cases since June 10th. The real number is almost certainly much higher, because many people who are infected experience no symptoms or mild symptoms.

A small fraction of the new cases are coming from congregate settings, like nursing homes and prisons, Billioux said. That is good news for such places, which have been rocked by the virus and contribute an outsized share of deaths to the state’s total death toll.

On the other hand, it means the vast majority of new cases are coming from “community spread.” Officials said Thursday people need to do a better job of wearing masks when in public, staying home when sick and taking other precautions.

Edwards said the public needs to do a “gut check” on whether they have been taking the recommended steps to limit infections.

Louisiana’s health Region 1, which comprises New Orleans and surrounding areas, was among the hardest-hit nationally in March and April from the virus, something officials believe may be the result of coronavirus being present during Mardi Gras.

The region has experienced a recent uptick in cases and a slight drop in total testing, according to the health department presentation. Hospitalizations are trending down, but Billioux said officials are concerned recent upticks may be the start of a new trend.

The Baton Rouge region has seen an “undulating pattern” in new cases and the same phenomenon in hospitalizations as New Orleans.

The areas of most concern include Acadiana, which Billioux said is seeing a “very alarming rise in new cases.” The region has seen several outbreaks at crawfish processing facilities, but the state has not released data that would show how much that is contributing to the rise. Likewise the Lake Charles and Alexandria regions are seeing poor trends.

The state continues to have a hard time reaching people through contact tracing, a key part of the state’s reopening strategy where workers call people who tested positive and track down their close contacts. The goal is to get people who were infected and close contacts to isolate for 14 days.

The state has only reached about 57% of the infected people it has called, which doesn’t include many who have incomplete contact information. The state never reached 27% of those infected.

Close contacts of people who were infected are picking up the phone more often, with the state reaching 65% of them.

“Nobody wants to go backwards and start imposing more restrictions,” Edwards said. “And we won’t need to do that if people will do what we’re asking,” including wearing masks.


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com