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Louisiana checking virus outbreaks at crawfish farms

by Will Phillips

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana resumed the release Monday of detailed information on coronavirus infections in nursing homes, and officials announced investigations of outbreaks among workers at three crawfish farms in the state’s Acadiana region.

The Health Department said about 100 workers across the three farms have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Gov. John Bel Edwards and Assistant Secretary of Health Alex Billioux provided few details about the cases, but said at least some of the workers involved were migrants.

“There was one outbreak in a group of workers who work in a crawfish farm and live, I think, in dormitory like settings,” Billioux said during Edwards’ coronavirus news conference at the state Capitol in Baton Rouge. “That led to broader testing.”

Further investigation led to the discovery of outbreaks at two other crawfish sites, Billioux said. Exact locations of the farms were not immediately provided. They happened in the south central part of the state.

“These are active, evolving, protected investigations,” Health Department spokeswoman Aly Neel said in a statement. The department “is working closely with these worksites to identify and minimize infection.”

The nursing home information was released earlier Monday.

The 12-page list includes the Southeast Louisiana War Veterans Home in St. John the Baptist Parish, where 80 residents have tested positive for coronavirus, with 28 deaths. There currently are 88 residents at the home, according to the health department.

While some institutions reported no cases, the figures were grim for others: Old Jefferson Community Care Center in East Baton Rouge Parish, with 83 current residents, had 82 positive cases and 21 deaths; Legacy Nursing and Rehabilitation of Franklin, which currently has 87 residents, has had 73 positive cases and 15 deaths.

The Edwards administration initially released such information early in the outbreak, but later stopped providing details, offering only total numbers of nursing home residents statewide who have tested positive and who have died.

That raised questions about whether family members of nursing home residents who aren’t infected were told what was happening in the facility.

More than 3,800 COVID-19 cases had been reported among residents of roughly 200 nursing homes as of late last week. At nursing homes, there have been more than 860 COVID-19 deaths.

The Health Department also reported 526 COVID-19 cases among residents of 86 other types of adult residential care facilities and 65 deaths.

Overall, the state reported more than 34,700 COVID-19 cases Monday, based on more than 269,000 tests. The death toll stood at 2,440 Monday, with more than 26,000 people having recovered. The total number of cases has risen steadily as testing has ramped up in Louisiana, but hospitalizations have been trending downward from early April and the percentage of cases relative to the number of tests has declined, two of the factors that led to last week’s decision to ease some of the economically devastating restrictions on gatherings and business in the state.

Edwards noted that the one-day increase of 15 deaths was the lowest the state has had since the end of March.

In other developments related to the virus, a federal judge has refused to block a state plan to isolate coronavirus-infected state prisoners at a cell block at the state penitentiary in Angola.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ruled that the state plan was carefully developed to limit the spread of coronavirus at state prisons and local jails holding state prisoners.

Inmate advocates filed a lawsuit against the plan in April. They said the plan would likely result in prisoners not receiving proper treatment.

Dick rejected the argument that prison officials have treated prisoners with “indifference.” She said the plan, while not perfect, has shown some success.

Dick’s ruling, dated Friday, rejected the inmates’ call for a temporary restraining order blocking prisoner transfers to the Angola-based penitentiary’s Camp J while the case is pending.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge contributed to this report.

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