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Monroe, Alexandria, Lake Charles see spread

Andrew Capps
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Published 5:58 PM EDT Jun 10, 2020

Louisiana’s coronavirus trajectory is looking “much, much better,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday, but areas around Monroe, Alexandria and Lake Charles are still dealing with significant community spread.

“We are not seeing a spike in cases,” Edwards said. “There are a few regions that continue to concern us.”

He noted the Louisiana Health Department regions 8 in the Monroe area, regions 5 in Lake Charles and 6 around Alexandria continue to see community spread and increased cases of COVID-19, and increased hospitalizations as the state closes its first week of the second phase of reopening.

“One region we’ve watched since the beginning of concern for us is the greater Monroe area, where we’ve seen a consistent increase in cases and consistent increases in hospitalizations,” said Dr. Alex Billioux, the state health department’s top coronavirus expert. “In the greater Monroe area, we continue to see spread in communities.”

The silver lining, at least for Monroe, Billioux said, was that COVID-19 testing has increased dramatically there since the early days of the virus spread in March and April.

MORE: Louisiana coronavirus: More than 400 cases reported Wednesday as steady spread continues

In the first week of April, the 12-parish Monroe region, which has about 350,000 residents, was reporting less than 250 test results on average each day, but as of the last three weeks Monroe has averaged 1,300 new tests a day, a notable increase for a part of the state that was left behind in early testing availability.

Alexandria has also averaged 383 new tests a day in the past three weeks after seeing about 267 new tests a day in the first three weeks of April. But that eight-parish region has seen a 20% jump in COVID-19 cases in the past seven days for an increase of 286 cases.

Monroe has seen the largest increase in new cases of coronavirus in the past week: 636 new cases after adding 189 cases across Tuesday and Wednesday. Monroe’s increase in cases in the past seven days is double the increases seen everywhere but the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas, and amounts to a 21% jump in cases since June 3, the largest percent growth in the state.

MORE: Coronavirus: Louisiana’s rural parishes still struggling with testing for virus

Still, the 12-parish Monroe area remains behind the New Orleans in per capita spread at 104 cases per 10,000 residents, while New Orleans was at 179 Wednesday. Only the Houma/Thibodeaux region has seen a similarly large spread of the virus as it is also at 104 cases per 10,000 residents.

Officials also pointed to Lake Charles as an area of concern for continued community spread, though the five-parish Lake Charles Region has the lowest per capita spread of the virus of any of the state’s nine health regions.

But that low prevalence is belied by Lake Charles’ bottom of the state testing status, as that region has tested residents for coronavirus at a per capita rate that is less than half the rate in areas like New Orleans and Shreveport.

MORE: As Louisiana heads to Phase 2 reopening, COVID-19 trends show it’s ready

Overall, the state continues to see a steady increase in new cases each day that has subtly increased on average since Edwards’ stay-home order was lifted on May 16. Louisiana averaged 414 new cases a day in the week since June 3 after averaging 392 a day in the last full week of May.

While the state’s trajectory is ticking up slightly after slowing dramatically from its peak in April, Edwards emphasized that a broad view of the state’s trends can blur the dynamics of local spread and could encourage citizens to be less compliant with guidelines like wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

“Sometimes if you just look at the numbers from a high altitude, it obscures what’s going on in certain parts of the state, and that would be the case,” Edwards said.

“So if you in the Lake Charles area, the Alexandria area or the Monroe area, we do have some concerns about those areas, but we’re asking those people to do the same thing that we’re asking people across the state of Louisiana to do, and that is to make sure you’re following all the protocols we have in place.”

Follow Andrew Capps for breaking news and updates on Twitter.


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