Tracking COVID-19 during Phase 1 of reopening

LDH on reopening

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Now that we’ve entered Phase 1 of reopening the economy, the Louisiana Department of Health says the road to recovery is going to be a gradual and closely-watched process.

Region 5 Medical Director Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh explained how the department will be tracking the virus going forward.

“Two months ago we all had no idea that we’d be in the situation that we’re in now," Cavanaugh said. "So, going into Phase 1 there are a lot of focuses,”

Despite being one of the nation’s hardest-hit areas for the Coronavirus, Louisiana isn’t a stranger to disaster recovery.

“As we deploy strategies for mass testing in some congregate settings like nursing homes, of course, our case count is going to increase," Cavanaugh said.

Officials say strategized testing will be critical in Phase 1.

“We are spending a lot of time focusing on vulnerable individuals," said Cavanaugh. "How do we make sure they have access to testing, how do we make sure the entire community has easy access to testing and that we have enough testing within the community so that we can potentially detect the early spread of the virus if it starts to spread again.”

If school doors are to open in the Fall, Cavanaugh said there’s still a lot to learn about the overall impact of the virus on children.

Recently, parents have been urged to watch for signs of a rare disease linked to COVID-19 that could impact children. It’s an inflammatory disorder similar to Kawasaki Disease. More than 80 percent of the children who develop the disease are under the age of 5.

“Some children have tested positive for COVID on PCR testing, which means they have COVID now or have tested positive for antibodies...Could it be a complication after the acute phase of COVID is over? We don’t really know," Cavanaugh said. "There have also been some kids that have tested negative for both...right now it’s still small numbers and we’re in a data-gathering phase.”

With the state’s budget in limbo, Governor Edwards says state providers such as hospitals need to be prepared in case there is a resurgence of the virus.

“There will still be cuts.. basically two-percent cuts to most state agencies, including my office, the division of administration, but also the judiciary, the legislature, various statewide elected officials..about 80 million including significant cuts to the department of health, but won’t include Medicaid or optional services," Gov. Edwards said.

LDH says going forward contact tracing will start to ramp up across the area.

The Department has implemented a plan for COVID-19 testing and tracking that is now underway. The plan involves hiring as many as 700 Louisiana residents who will serve as “contact tracers,” interviewing and advising people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to determine who in their lives could also be at risk.

  • Contact Tracing Process
  • A contact tracer is a public health worker who attempts to identify all people who were exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • People who test positive will be called by a contact tracer.
  • The number that will appear when the contact tracer calls is 877-766-2130.
  • The contact tracer will ask questions about the person’s health status, where they have traveled, who else they have been in contact with during the time the person was contagious.
  • The contact tracer then notifies any close contacts that they have been exposed to the virus.
  • Contact tracers will advise the close contacts to stay home, monitor their symptoms, and may advise them to get tested.
  • They will also try to link the person who tested positive to important health and social services that might be needed while they are required to stay at home.
  • The contact tracer will also try to link the close contacts to important health and social services (that they may require to stay home).
  • To protect privacy, those who are called by a contact tracer are only informed that they may have been exposed to the virus on a certain date; they are not told the identity of the person who may have exposed them.

LDH is working with two contractors, Accenture and Salesforce, to manage the contact tracing process.

How successful that process is will be dependent on how local residents and businesses adhere to and incorporate social distancing.

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