The Louisiana Department of Health has reported the state's first "presumptive positive" case of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, according to the office of the governor.
Few details are known about the individual who tested positive. Out of concern for their privacy, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell would not release identifiable information about them at a press conference Monday afternoon, such as their age, or gender, or the hospital at which they are being monitored.
Officials have only said that the person is a Jefferson Parish resident, and that they are currently hospitalized in an Orleans Parish hospital. According to the Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate, that hospital is the VA Medical Center in New Orleans.
This is the first known case of the illness in the state. The case still has to be confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Governor Edwards said healthcare providers are following protocols as if the individual was a confirmed coronavirus patient.
"While today is the first time that we can confirm that we have a presumptive positive coronavirus case, Louisiana has been preparing for this moment for many weeks," Edwards said. "The CDC still believes the risk to the general public is low, but we will work quickly and decisively to assess the risk to those around this patient."
Stephen Russo, interim secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health said in a press release that the case was detected because of the recent expansion of testing criteria.
"It's critical to be able to catch COVID-19 early to prevent spread in our communities," Russo said.
According to Dr. Jennifer Avegno, Director of New Orleans Health Department, the patient did not contract the virus while traveling, but from community spread. Her medical team is currently working to trace the origin of contact.
Mayor Cantrell said Monday that she does not plan to cancel this weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, as other cities have done, including Dublin. Nor will she be restricting non-essential travel.
Avegno says the city is ramping up it’s testing efforts, and emphasized that certain groups are advised to play it safe and stay home from this weekend’s planned festivities.
“We’re asking everyone: if you are sick, if you are elderly, if you have serious medical conditions, stay home,” Avegno said. “There will be a parade next year.”
In all, city officials said the overall risk level remains low for New Orleanians. They urged people not to panic, but take simple precautions, like washing hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water. People with cold- or flu-like symptoms are encouraged to stay home from work.
Governor Edwards and state health officials held a press conference at the state capitol Monday afternoon to detail the state’s response.
Edwards spoke in less detail about the first coronavirus case than Cantrell, similarly citing concern for the individual’s privacy. He added that as health department investigators learn more about the potential community impact of the first case, relevant information will be shared with the public.
Alex Billioux, assistant secretary of the Office of Public Health, said everyone who has been asked to self-isolate has done so.
Edwards estimated that as of last week that was “about three dozen” people, but those numbers are likely to climb as state health officials conduct an epidemiological review of the Jefferson Parish patients’ contact with other people.
Edwards urged people not to panic.
“We can limit this, but it’s going to require everybody doing their part,” Edwards said. “Yeah, it looks like this is going to get worse for a period of time before it gets better, but how much worse depends on how many people do the things we’re asking them to do.”
He encouraged people to wash their hands, stay at home if sick and adhere to guidelines provided by state and federal health officials. He added that the elderly, individuals with underlying health conditions and the people who live with them should practice social distancing.
Edwards said he expects federal officials to expand testing criteria as commercial test kits are rolled out this week.
“Commercial testing means more people who are sick will be able to talk to their healthcare providers about their risk and if they need to be tested,” Edwards said.
He explained that any positive test results produced by a commercially-available test kit would be presumed positive. The state department of health would verify the result before sending it to the CDC for final confirmation.
“Let me be clear we will immediately take action on any positive test out of an abundance of caution while waiting for confirmation from the CDC,” Edwards said.
Edwards said the state can test as many as 650 individuals with the kits provided by the CDC.
He added that the state will announce all “presumptive positive” cases to the public.
For those concerned they might have coronavirus symptoms, officials are urging them to contact their primary care doctors by phone, first, before showing up to an emergency room. People without primary care physicians can call the state informational hotline to speak with someone about coronavirus symptoms. That number is 855-523-2652.
Up-to-date information about coronavirus and COVID-19 can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.