Virus Cases on the Rise Again in Louisiana’s Nursing Homes

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BATON ROUGE (AP) — Coronavirus infections among Louisiana’s nursing home residents are rising to levels not seen since an earlier outbreak peak over the summer, a threatening trend that comes as the facilities could be only weeks away from receiving the first doses of a vaccine.

Nursing homes reported more than 400 new cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus among residents in the past week, The Advocate reports, the most since mid-August.

Similarly, the 365 new infections reported among nursing home staff was the highest since August. Employees are closely watched because they are considered the most likely way for the virus to gain a foothold in those buildings.

The increases are creating worry the coronavirus could once again wreak havoc among some of Louisiana’s most vulnerable residents just weeks before vaccinations begin.

“We are very concerned about our congregate settings,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “When you have high degrees of community spread, it is virtually impossible” to keep the virus out.

Edwards has said Louisiana could receive its first shipments of the Moderna vaccine — which state officials are dedicating to those who live and work in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — by the end of December. Shipments begin when Moderna’s vaccine receives approval for use in the United States.

Louisiana’s 23,000 nursing home residents have accounted for less than 5% of the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases but about 43% of the 6,426 deaths, according to the latest data available by the state health department. The state ordered a variety of measures to try to control the virus’ spread, from lockdowns to strict no-contact visitation policies to increased testing.

But as cases have climbed across Louisiana over the past month, cases in nursing homes also have risen.

Three Monroe nursing homes were among 10 that reported double-digit new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past week. The biggest increase was in the Northeast Louisiana War Veterans Home in Monroe, with 23 new infections — more than half the 45 total infections the home has reported since March.

Brandee Patrick, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, said the agency noticed parallels between high numbers of cases in the community translating to infections within veteran homes. She said the department has been testing residents weekly at the five long-term care homes the agency operates in the state. With the virus surging throughout much of Louisiana, some have begun testing twice per week.

A state-run veterans home in Reserve and another in Jackson also have been hot spots for the virus, logging 36 and 25 deaths, respectively, and dozens of infections since March.

Nursing homes scattered around the state also have reported significant numbers of new cases.

For example, Bayou Vista Community Care in Bunkie reported 10 new cases. Lisa Gardner, a spokesperson for Mandeville-based CommCare, which operates Bayou Vista, said testing had increased and staff have been vigilant about their use of personal protective equipment, which was scarce in the early days of the pandemic.

The home’s residents, Gardner said, did not seem to be getting cases that were as severe as earlier this year. One resident who tested positive had to be hospitalized, another had some respiratory issues that were being managed at the home, and the rest of the cases were asymptomatic or just fighting fatigue, she said.

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