Louisiana to name nursing homes where outbreaks happen

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration Monday will start releasing the names of nursing homes where residents have tested positive for the coronavirus and where there have been deaths from COVID-19.

The administration initially released that information early in the outbreak, but later stopped providing details, offering only numbers of nursing home residents statewide who have tested positive and who have died.

That raised questions about whether family members of nursing home residents who aren’t infected were told what was happening in the facility.

Dr. Alex Billioux, leader of Louisiana’s public health office, said the state will resume offering the details, including which nursing homes have seen residents or staff test positive for the coronavirus, how many have recovered and how many residents have died at a facility.

The information will be released weekly, Billioux said Wednesday.

Nursing home residents account for 37% of all virus deaths, according to the health department.

The policy change was announced as officials released plans to this weekend reopen 18 Louisiana state parks, 18 state historic sites and all nine state museum buildings. Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser discussed the plans during the Democratic governor’s regular news conference on the state coronavirus response.

Nungesser’s decision dovetails with Edwards’ plans to ease some state restrictions on businesses and gatherings starting Friday, including a return to limited in-restaurant dining and the reopening of salons and gyms. New Orleans is adopting similar rules Saturday.

Nungesser said three parks — Chicot State Park, Lake Bistineau State Park and Bayou Segnette State Park — will remain closed to house people with COVID-19 who have no place to self-isolate.

The number of people in Louisiana hospitalized with the disease caused by the new coronavirus dropped below 1,200 on Wednesday, one of the positive trends that has prompted state officials to allow partial re-opening of businesses, even as the number of cases and related deaths climbs.

Another sign the state is growing confident that the virus remains manageable: Edwards said plans are in the works to begin removing hospital beds from the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The center became a makeshift hospital, converted at a cost of $169 million, for patients who were no longer critical and could be moved from regional hospitals needing space for other COVID-19 patients.

More than 200 have been treated at the convention center, Edwards said Wednesday, adding that the current number is around 17. He said some beds would remain in case a flare-up of the disease occurs, but the number had not been finalized.

The latest figures from the state health department in Baton Rouge showed 32,662 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, up from 32,050 on Tuesday. The number of known cases is expected to rise as more tests are completed and the department said Wednesday’s one-day jump of 612 cases involved a backlog of reporting.

“We have three labs that are reporting for the first time,” Edwards said.

Deaths rose to over 2,300. More than 22,600 people are “presumed recovered” by the state. The figures show close to 238,000 tests have been performed to date.

Edwards said Wednesday the state is working toward a goal of full testing — and repeat testing — of all residents and staff at nursing homes and other adult residential care providers and at prisons.

More than 3,800 COVID-19 cases have been reported among residents of 197 nursing homes, and 501 cases have been reported among residents of 77 adult residential facilities, the health department said Wednesday. At nursing homes, there have been 863 COVID-19 deaths; at residential facilities, 58 such deaths.

“We’ve known from the beginning that nursing homes are one of the places that are most conducive to the spread of the virus and, unfortunately, it is inhabited by residents that are most vulnerable to the virus,” Edwards said.

Overall downward trends in the number of people showing symptoms, hospitalizations and the percentage of new cases among those tested are among the factors leading to an easing of some restrictions statewide Friday, and in New Orleans on Saturday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.