Coronavirus Update: Six presumptive positive cases in Louisiana

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The Louisiana Department of Health reported late Tuesday night three new presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus. All three are residents of Orleans Parish. Two are hospitalized in Orleans Parish; the third is hospitalized in St. Tammany Parish.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said, “Currently, we have a total of six presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in Louisiana. While we investigate these cases, we cannot disclose any additional information about these patients at this time.”

The presumptive positive tests will be sent to the CDC for final confirmation of COVID-19. Louisiana will move forward as if the tests are actual positives and take actions to contain the illness and assess the risk of spread.

Additional tests will be administered to determine if more people have been infected after the Department’s epidemiology team performs an investigation of close contacts.

At this time, there are a total of six known cases of the illness in the state. Gov. Edwards announced the state’s first presumptive positive case, a Jefferson Parish resident, on Monday, March 9, and two additional presumptive positive cases on Tuesday afternoon, both in Orleans Parish.

“At this point in our investigation we believe the first presumptive positive announced yesterday [Monday] is not travel-related and was community acquired,” said Dr. Alex Billioux, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Public Health.

Louisiana ramps up testing

This comes as the state has increased testing for the virus.

In the five days since receiving more test kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, LDH has tested more than seven times as many people for the virus.

With 43 tests of Persons Under Investigation (PUI) now completed, only six have been identified as presumptive positive in Louisiana. This compares to five completed tests as of Friday, March 6.

Health officials expected that increased testing for COVID-19 would lead to confirmation of additional cases in the state.

LDH is following the CDC’s guidance and testing three groups of people – those who have traveled to certain areas and have symptoms, those who have had close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 and have symptoms, and people with an unexplained acute respiratory illness.

The recent testing by the state laboratory run by LDH’s Office of Public Health includes samples from people who went to their doctor or to a hospital and had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, cough, headache, or lower respiratory illness. Some patients had recently traveled to a geographic area with known COVID-19 activity, while others did not have such a travel history.

In other instances, OPH is using the tests for surveillance purposes. This is done using existing disease surveillance infrastructure that includes several hospitals and clinics throughout Louisiana. For COVID-19 surveillance, when patients are treated for respiratory illnesses, but are not diagnosed with influenza, swabbed samples are sent to the State public health lab where the COVID-19 test is done. Following CDC guidance, a sampling of cases from each site are sent the lab. This is a proven and effective system for the early detection of diseases, allowing health officials to take the appropriate next steps.

For all people who have symptoms and who are being tested, they and their healthcare provider are being advised on precautions to take to prevent spreading the illness to others. Precautions include self-isolation at home or in an isolation room at the hospital.

Some commercial labs are now equipped to conduct COVID-19 testing. With these private labs ready to test, healthcare providers will start sending their samples to those labs. LDH will be notified of any positive results coming from a commercial lab.

Appropriate treatment and precautions will immediately be put in place for any positive commercial test before that test is confirmed by the State lab, and the public will be notified.

Advice for the public

State officials encourage Louisianans to take the following proactive steps to protect the health of themselves and those around them:

  • Cover your cough. 
  • Stay home if you are sick. 
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, or with a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. 
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces. 
  • Avoid close contact (within six feet) with those who are sick. 

Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

Additional information on COVID-19 can be found on LDH’s website: ldh.la.gov/coronavirus.

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