BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — The coronavirus that has infected more than 81,000 people and killed almost 2,800 globally has Louisiana’s health agency bracing for the disease’s potential arrival in the state.
Louisiana has yet to report any cases of the COVID-19 disease, though the Louisiana Department of Health remains on watch. Public health officials are preparing as they would for influenza, using a pandemic plan the state crafted nearly two decades ago.
The state is focusing its precautions on those who have traveled abroad, as the disease is most heavily concentrated in China. Louisianians coming from China are subject to screening at U.S. airports, then 14-day monitoring from LDH. Airports statewide are posting symptoms of the virus — fever, cough and shortness of breath — so customers know what to expect.
LDH has monitored roughly 30 Louisiana residents over the past two weeks, though none have shown symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 60 cases in the United States, including 45 tied to either Wuhan, China or the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined outside Japan.
Louisiana’s hospital administrators suggest COVID-19’s arrival is inevitable, but they are taking measures to slow its spread. In Baton Rouge, Our Lady of the Lake and Baton Rouge General medical centers have been asking patients if they have traveled abroad lately. Both facilities have isolation rooms, should a patient have the disease.
“We know eventually, it will reach here,” said Our Lady of the Lake associate chief medical officer Dr. Catherine O’Neal, who handles the hospital’s response to infectious diseases. “When we do see those cases, if we continue to protect the community, we’ll be far ahead of Wuhan [China].”
Everyday Louisianians can take precautions of their own. As part of its pandemic plan, LDH urges people to wash their hands, cover their coughs, avoid non-essential travel to infected places and stay home when they feel sick.
Louisiana is among 38 states without the ability to conduct its own tests for COVID-19. Health care providers must send any samples to the CDC’s Atlanta lab.
Pharmaceutical measures against the virus remain works in progress. Vaccine vials from Moderna Therapeutics of Cambridge, Mass. will be ready for testing as early as April. NIH scientists have begun testing the antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment.