Jeff Asher: Amid national resurgence of coronavirus, Louisiana can be proud of ‘fragile’ progress | Coronavirus

In my last column, I made what I might call the “cautiously pessimistic” forecast for COVID-19 in Louisiana over the next few weeks/months. But, as I said in that piece, “the evidence is not particularly strong just yet, meaning there is plenty of uncertainty about whether we are actually seeing increasing infections, where they’re occurring, and how bad things could get.”

Today let’s look at the relatively optimistic present, where things in Louisiana are about as good as they have been — while still being in a deadly global pandemic — since early March.

In much of America right now, there is ample evidence that things are getting bad. There were nearly 70,000 new cases reported nationally on Oct. 16, the most since July, and cases are rising faster than tests nationally.

There is growing evidence that Louisiana’s next wave of COVID-19 is at our doorstep, just as the state begins to relax restrictions. Still, th…

Wisconsin reported over 4,000 new cases on Oct. 16 with 28% of tests coming back positive, indicating that the number of infections is significantly higher than even that incredible number of known new cases. The Dakotas are seeing some of the highest rates of new cases in the country.

It is not just the U.S. either. Countries across Europe are implementing new restrictions in the face of a new surge.

But so far, Louisiana has been spared the COVID spike that is gripping much of the country.

So far.

A partial explanation may be that Louisiana was arguably the only state in the country to have an initial wave in March and a second wave in June/July. Louisiana’s re-opening has also been cautious and staggered, which has helped to prevent outbreaks over a month after the state entered Phase 3.

‘We know very little about what the virus will be doing four months from now’

Fewer than 5% of tests reported statewide have come back positive on 13 of the first 14 days of October where data was reported. The data has been even better in Orleans Parish, where tests have come back positive at a rate of 2.5% or less on all 14 days.

Florida, by contrast, fully re-opened restaurants, bars, and gyms, among other businesses, on Sept. 28 despite still logging around 100 deaths per day and a positivity rate of over 10%, and the state is already seeing increasing cases and a climbing positive test rate.

Meanwhile, the evidence of increasing COVID in Louisiana that I wrote about last time has not really panned out. COVID-related hospitalizations are up slightly from where they were in early October, but they have been relatively steady for much of the last three weeks. And Google searches for COVID symptoms looked like they were increasing in early October, but that trend seems less clear now than it did a week or two ago.

The progress that Louisiana has made is real, but it is also fragile.

Data from Tulane and LSU points to relatively successful containment of COVID clusters on both campuses, and the return to in-person schooling has been about as successful so far as one might have hoped.

Things were looking pretty bleak for Tulane for a minute there.

It is tempting to look at good daily results as a sign that we need to dramatically relax the state’s restrictions. But doing so risks reversing the very policies that make the good results possible. Masks, social distancing and preventing large crowds (especially indoors) from congregating all are key in keeping the state’s COVID incidence low.

What’s more, there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Science and health reporter Donald McNeil of The New York Times wrote recently about how new pharmaceutical interventions will soon be joining non-pharmaceutical interventions (like masks) to improve outcomes of COVID patients. McNeil also notes that “as people begin to get shots after a vaccine is approved, transmission should slow.” As a result, McNeil says “experts are saying, with genuine confidence, that the pandemic in the United States will be over far sooner than they expected, possibly by the middle of next year.”

But we aren’t there yet, and the threat of another surge in COVID in the meantime remains pervasive. Until the end is at hand, “masks and caution are our best alternative,” McNeil writes.

Each day without signs of increasing COVID incidence in Louisiana puts us another day closer to the end of the pandemic, but going too far too fast threatens to upend all the progress we have made so far.

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