The novel coronavirus has continued to spread among the patients and staff inside the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in Jackson but at a rate far more slowly than earlier this year.

Also, the share of cases that remain active is well off percentages from late April when the virus was coming off its first peak in the state, state health data show.

Nearly 30% of the patients at the Jackson complex, which provides psychiatric and psychological care to criminal defendants and others, have contracted the virus. That's 205 out of around 700 patients since the outbreak began to be detected in early March.

As of last week, though, only 14 of those cases were active, meaning they were sick or in a quarantine period. In late April, about three-quarters of the 143 cases then detected were still active, state data show.

Ten patients at the complex have died, up from six at the end of April.

Nursing homes, prisons and other congregate settings like the mental health complex in Jackson were hit by the virus's first sweep through Louisiana in the spring. Continued testing, protective equipment and tightened restrictions on access have helped blunt the spread as Louisiana has entered a second peak in cases this summer, state officials have said.

Infections haven't been limited to patients in nursing homes and other group settings but also their staffs. The Jackson complex has been no different in this regard, with the number of infections among its staff more than doubling since late April.

Cases among staff at the complex increased from 47 to 108 between April 27 and July 21, health data show. Only 20 of the cases remain active.

Kevin Litten, spokesman for the state Department of Health, said patients are isolated if they test positive while staff who test positive are self-quarantining.

"We are continuously testing all staff and patients, with testing occurring every two weeks," he said in a statement.

Concerns about the virus's impact on people housed in the huge but aging facility in Jackson have drawn two lawsuits in federal court in Baton Rouge involving four patients with mental health conditions.

They are residents of the facility's adult forensic division, a high-security portion of the health complex that provides inpatient treatment to people sent to the facility through court order.

The plaintiffs have alleged social distancing among patients in the facility's group buildings and other safety measures have been poor and exacerbated by longstanding conditions in the more than 170-year-old facility. The state health department, which runs the system, itself had said in 2019 the complex was “deplorable, antiquated and quickly deteriorating," the lawsuits allege, and has for years sought state funding to replace the buildings.

Plaintiffs in both lawsuits alleged that, through late April, they weren't being separated from other patients who had been infected.

The lawsuits, which were filed in May and June, alleged at the time that viral cases were likely to increase "given the conditions and the passage of time" and have been seeking to be removed and placed in a community-based setting.

Garret DeReus, one of the lawyers who brought those suits, said the latest figures suggest the state may have gotten past the worst of the outbreak, though he noted that 10 patients had died.

The problems at the facility, he said, go beyond latest impacts from COVID-19.

The lawsuits remain in the early stages and have been consolidated for evidentiary purposes with a third suit over conditions at the facility that predates the outbreak.

State officials haven't commented directly on the lawsuits, but, in court papers, they are seeking to have one of the COVID-19 suits thrown out. State officials allege the plaintiffs haven't provided proof that a professional has determined an outpatient setting is appropriate for them.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

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