Newell: Majority of Louisiana virus transmissions happening in small, indoor spaces

Dr. Joe Kanter explains Louisiana's troubling rise in COVID cases

Newell Normand
July 02, 2020 - 4:39 pm
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Louisiana’s Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter joined Newell for his recurring weekly segment Thursday morning to discuss the latest developments in the battle against COVID-19, preventative measures, and the search for effective treatments or even a vaccine. This week, Louisiana and many other states across the South and West are facing serious setbacks.

“Give us the state of the state,” Newell began. “Have we drilled down to really determine where these new resurgences are coming from?”

“It's challenging in one sense, because every information point we get indicates that they are coming from all over,” Kanter said. “They’re coming from throughout the state, and in regions that did not experience increases a few weeks or months ago. Although the super-spreader events at bars and parties get all the headlines, they’re not responsible for the majority of transmissions. The lion’s share of transmissions are occuring at either small, informal gatherings like those at someone’s house, or from everyday activities, particularly when folks are indoors, close together, and not wearing masks.”

“Is there a belief in the medical community today that the coronavirus is more virulent now than when it started a few months ago?” Newell asked.

“That’s an ongoing conversation,” Kanter replied. “We’ve talked about the potential for mutations before. All viruses go through small mutations all the time, and this is no different. Whether that mutation becomes significant enough to alter the virus’ function can be difficult to know on the front end and sometimes you need to look backwards. There is an increasing discussion about the virus perhaps becoming more infectious, but no evidence to say that it’s more dangerous. In fact, the acuity of hospitalized patients is a little bit less - not considerably so, but we do have less patients on ventilators than we did at the beginning. Part of that is because the medical community is getting a lot better at treating therdse patients and keeping patients off the ventilators in the first place. Clinical outcomes are improving. There’s nothing to hang our hat on yet, but maybe in a couple weeks we get more information. Practically, it doesn’t change what we have to do on the ground.”

“We’ve done an amazing job as to the number of tests conducted,” Newell continued. “Everytime I look at the reports, I’m just amazed. Do we have a feel for what the increase is relative to the number of tests we’re doing, and parsing that out? Are we still in the top 5 states in the country in testing?”

“Per capita, I would imagine we are,” Kanter said. “We don't think increased testing is all that’s happening with our rising numbers. We’re testing a ton more people, testing fewer sick individuals. In the beginning of the outbreak, testing in Louisiana was so limited that you had to be either a returning traveler or sick enough to be in the hospital to get tested. By definition, we were testing sicker patients. Now, you can be asymptomatic and get tested in many parts of the state. So you see the acuity go down, and you track the other measures like percent positivity and clean the data that gets bogged, like date of test reporting versus date of test collection. The last number for the week ending a few days ago put us around 11% positivity, which is above the 10% benchmark the White House set. We’re seeing an increase in hospitalized patients… not to the point of threatening capacity, but as a marker that the outbreak is growing, we are really concerned about that.”

Hear the full interview in the audio player below.

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