By Maria Marsh and Hailey Auglair
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE—Gov. John Bel Edwards said the number of presumed cases of COVID-19 in Louisiana increased to 13 on Wednesday from six a day earlier, with people testing positive in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, Iberia, Lafourche and Caddo parishes.
Edwards declared a statewide public health emergency, adding that “it is worrisome” to see the coronavirus spread across the state.
Three of the positive tests were linked to the Lambeth House, a retirement home in New Orleans, the governor said.
All told, 10 of the cases are in the metro New Orleans area, state officials said. One person is either is from or hospitalized in each of Iberia, Lafourche and Caddo parishes.
The cases are considered presumptive until they are confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control.
Limited information about the 13 people who tested positive has been released due to privacy laws. But New Orleans officials have said that the first case there came from the virus spreading within the community rather than from foreign travel by the person who was infected.
Separately, Loyola University canceled classes scheduled for this Thursday and Friday and said it would hold classes only online starting next Monday. Tulane University said it is canceling all classes till March 23, when will resume with all classes online.
LSU officials said earlier Wednesday that they are watching developments closely and weighing the possibility of closing the school after spring break, which occurs during the week of March 22.
Edwards advised higher-education leaders to consider going online, but he said he trusted them to make the decisions.
Edwards said the state would prohibit its employees from traveling risky areas overseas.
The earliest a vaccine could be made for the coronavirus would be in about 12 to 18 months, according to the Health Department.
The virus affects the upper respiratory system with symptoms like fever and cough. Most people only have mild symptoms, but about 15% have severe symptoms, Dr. Alexander Billioux, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Health, told legislators Wednesday.
The state Health Department said the overall mortality rate of the coronavirus seems to be less than 1%. The virus tends to be more severe for people over 60 and those with underlying medical conditions.
The department advises people to take the same precautions they would for the flu, like frequently washing hands and avoiding close contact with people who are ill.
“A lot of our advice is based on what we know about the flu,” said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the state health officer. “People don’t take the flu seriously anymore,” he said, adding that many more people have died from the flu.
The state has the capacity for several hundred tests for the coronavirus. The CDC’s criteria have to be met for someone to be tested for it.
LSU officials asked students and faculty to curtail travel over the break, though they acknowledge it is likely some still will. Such travel could increase the risk of spreading the virus on campus.
“We are aware that other universities around the country are closing and/or moving to online classes,” university officials said in an email. “LSU is also considering these options, and last week, asked faculty members to prepare for the possibility of moving to an online format.”