health care recovery

Boil advisories, medical facility updates and COVID-19 were addressed at a Friday Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Hurricane Laura briefing.

Three weeks out from the storm, which hit the Southwest region of the state August 27, many areas in Calcasieu Parish are still under boil advisories.

Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, Public Health Director for Region 5, said residents should adhere to the advisories to avoid a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms. The City of Sulphur announced Friday that it has rescinded its boil advisory.

Cavanaugh said boil advisories are issued whenever water systems lose power, which causes a drop in pressure, leaving the water supply vulnerable to bacterial contamination. Ingesting contaminated water can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. “It’s very unpleasant and it’s not something we need in the community right now,” she said. “Make sure you have a clean source of ice and that you boil your water for one minute, if you are able.”

Cavanaugh said private wells can also be contaminated if there is storm surge or if they’re damaged. Those wells must be disinfected and tested for bacteria. She said her office has a limited number of free kits available for those with possibly contaminated wells. They will be distributed from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, at the Jeff Davis Parish Health Unit, at 403 Baker St. in Jennings, where the Office of Public Health’s Mobile Water Lab is stationed, on a first come, first served basis. After a sample is collected the kit can be dropped off at the water lab for testing. Anyone affected by Hurricane Laura can request a kit.

Health Care System

“Our hospitals did get hit,” said Cavanaugh. “They got hit pretty hard.” She said some are regaining the ability to provide limited services. She noted that while hospitals are very important, they are only one piece of what is considered the health care system. Some nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes may not be able to welcome their residents back for an extended period of time.

Hospice, home health, dialysis centers, family care and pediatric physicians and other outpatient providers may also be limited in what they can provide at this time. Cavanaugh said the majority of the staff at all these facilities were personally impacted by the hurricane.

At present, only three of the region’s six public health units are operational. The two in Calcasieu — in Sulphur and Lake Charles — are closed.

“I know everyone who evacuated wants to get back,” she said. “But it’s not just power and water (to consider), at least from a medical perspective, (it’s also) all of those other things you need to return safely.” She urged anyone with a medical condition requiring outpatient services to understand those facilities are not functioning at 100 percent.

COVID-19

“COVID was here before Laura and through Laura and it is still here with us now,” said Cavanaugh. She said public health officials “lost a lot of visibility” as far as data collection, when the storm hit.

“The people who evacuated weren’t thinking about testing and the people who stayed weren’t thinking about testing,” she said. “We didn’t have a lot of testing available.”

Another issue is the influx of out-of-state workers here for recovery efforts. Cavanaugh said those without a permanent address in Louisiana may test positive here, but that result is recorded wherever their permanent address is located. Results from Louisiana evacuees in other states will have to be sent here. She said this makes tracking cases difficult and temporarily skews data.

Bearing that in mind, Cavanaugh said the parish’s case positivity rate has increased. At its peak in July, the rate was 25 percent, meaning one of every four tests came back positive. Prior to the hurricane, Calcasieu had a rate between 5 and 9 percent. As of Friday, the rate is 10.3 percent.

Cavanaugh said this may be due to the low number of tests and who is getting tested. She said it is likely, during this period of recovery, that only sick people are seeking testing, which doesn’t present a true picture.

She urged people to get their flu vaccines and noted that, as a result of the pandemic and hurricane, health care facilities are already at reduced capacity.