New study: Testing needs to Ramp up 10+ times

"This is not flipping a light switch and we go back to the way it was 3 months ago." - Gov. John Bel Edwards

Harvard University researchers and epidemiologists are at it again, warning this time that America is nowhere close to having a true picture of the Coronavirus outbreak.  Other research and civic groups are beginning to agree.

At the present, 150-thousand tests are given each day in the United States.  But one Harvard research group says decisionmakers won't have a clear picture of infection hotspots until we test 500,000 to 700,000 each day.  

Harvard then assembled a panel of 45 experts in health, science and economics who said even that rate is not enough.  How much is enough?  The panel says testing in the U.S. should be, by June, up to 5-million tests given per day.  Moreover, the report further stated, "This number will need to increase over time (ideally by late July) to 20 million a day to fully remobilize the economy." 

In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards is desperate to meet federal guidelines of decreasing new COVID cases for 14 straight days to meet the White House criteria for reaching  Phase One, the opening step to reopening all businesses.  But the World Health Organization says the test-to-positives ratio should be at a safe 10%, meaning only 1 in 10 test positive for the virus.  In Orleans Parish, residents testing positive is still topping 30%.

Governor Edwards says a myriad of parameters are being considered.

"There's a lot of different metrics out there to say when you can safely reopen," he said.  "This is not flipping a light switch and we go back to the way it was 3 months ago. We're gearing up in a month to test as many as 200,000 people per month and that depends on capacity, not just the labs but also collection kits, and to do everything it takes to take that sample, get it to the lab, and have it tested quickly and accurately."

Assistant Director of the Louisiana Department of Health, Dr. Alex Billioux, added, "We're going to be looking at different measures rather than just that how many tests per thousand.  We're really going to be trying to understand what do we do to reach different proportions of people across the state."

Governor Edwards says he prefers to reopen the state all at once, not by parish or region.  Caddo residents are testing positive at a rate of about 7 percent, well within what the World Health Organization says is safe.  But Orleans and Jefferson are three times that rate and East Baton Rouge hovers at 17% testing positive for the virus.

Says Dr. Billioux, "Right now that LSU Shreveport lab is running tests for most of Region 7, most of the area around Bossier-Caddo, and is now reaching over to E.A. Conway hospital in Ouachita so they've already got the [ramped up testing] model going.  That's why you see such large volumes being reported there.  That's also the reason why we're talking about retooling the way we report that data so when you look at the dashboard, you'll have a better sense of where are the people being tested located, rather than where is that testing happening?"

In the meantime, until testing can quadruple, Governor Edwards is pleased that most Louisiana prevented a major pandemic by staying home.  The shutdown has been effective in flattening the all-important COVID-19 curve.  Louisiana Department of Health numbers show that fewer patients are being hospitalized and those needing ventilators continue to lessen.

Now the real worry is an economy in critical condition.  The Edwards administration is feeling daily pressure to lift the current stay-at-home order for nonessential employees while educators are doing their best to teach through technology.

For the first time in a century, the campus of Louisiana's flagship university that normally buzzes with 30,000 students is like every other university in the state and nation.  LSU is completely silent and barren.  

Tiger Stadium's 102,321 seats are empty, where crowds in the past have been so loud as to ping the Richter scale on seismographs.  The world's sixth largest capacity stadium now sits eerily silent, making it that much more difficult to believe it is home to America's reigning National Champions of college football.  The Louisiana squad won that victory just three months ago, right before Coronavirus paralyzed the world.

Louisiana State is not set to defend that title in just four more months.

Governor Edwards says the big question now is, when the team takes the field, will anyone be in the stands or will fans have to watch by television?  "Given the current information," he says, "we're not sure what we'll be doing.  My foremost job is to protect public safety."


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