BATON ROUGE (AP) — A fifth New Orleans resident has died from the coronavirus disease spreading across the country, according to the state health department, which released figures Wednesday showing the number of Louisiana residents testing positive for the virus continued to rise, topping 200.
The epicenter of the virus in Louisiana remains New Orleans, but increased testing showed the COVID-19 disease also had reached the state's capital city of Baton Rouge, according to figures released by the Louisiana Department of Health. The 240 positive tests Wednesday morning was up from 196 a day earlier.
"It is vital that residents adhere to practicing social distancing and self-isolation if you have symptoms," East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston said in a statement.
Of the five New Orleanians who have died, three are elderly residents of a New Orleans retirement home, Lambeth House, which has seen a cluster of cases, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration. The latest death, announced Wednesday, was a 98-year old person who lived at Lambeth House, the state health department said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said Louisiana has the third highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita in the nation. But he acknowledged the state has limited knowledge about the full spread, because of the initial slow pace of testing.
"I do think (testing) will get better in the next week or two weeks. And it has to get better," Cassidy, a doctor, said in a conference call.
A drive-thru testing center in Baton Rouge that shuttered Tuesday because it ran out of testing kits was reopening Wednesday, according to the mayor's office.
The grim uptick — and drastic restrictions enacted to try to contain the virus' spread — prompted the postponement of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a huge tourism driver that draws hundreds of thousands of people yearly. The festival will be rescheduled for the fall.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The governor has closed K-12 public schools, bars, gyms, casinos and movie theaters and has limited restaurants to delivery and takeout until at least April 13. Public gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has prohibited all public and private gatherings. Louisiana lawmakers have temporarily adjourned their legislative session.
And the state's presidential primary slated for April 4 has been pushed back to June, joining Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky and Georgia in postponing primary elections.
Edwards said his restrictions are aimed at slowing the spread of the virus to avoid strain on the health care system. The Democratic governor's actions mirror decisions by other states' governors. Louisiana law enforcement agencies said they intend to enforce Edwards' limitations on events and businesses, releasing a joint statement that said violators could see licenses revoked or face citations.
With schools shuttered across Louisiana, the state education department asked federal officials to suspend standardized testing requirements for public school students, along with school performance scores and letter grades.