Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks

While the Louisiana Department of Health reported 407 new positive cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, the total in Livingston Parish remained the same from the day before.

But the truth is, no one knows exactly how many locals have the coronavirus because of the limited amount of testing, Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know who’s been infected because of the lack of testing at this point,” he said. “While we don’t want to spread unfounded fear, this is something to be fearful of.”

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has now reached 1,795 positive cases in 48 of the state’s 64 parishes, according to the latest figures from the Louisiana Department of Health. Statewide, it has resulted in 65 deaths — up 19 from the day before — in nearly 20 parishes, with the vast majority in Orleans Parish, the epicenter for the disease in the state.

So far, there has not been a COVID-19 related death in Livingston Parish.

Locally, the coronavirus has reached a half-dozen positive cases in Livingston Parish after the first confirmed case last Thursday, less than one week ago. The second positive case was reported Saturday, followed by the third on Sunday, two more on Monday, and one Tuesday.

But Ricks believes that number will likely grow.

“Not to scare anyone, but we know as testing results come back, those numbers will go up,” he said.

On Sunday, Ricks issued a proclamation that “fully supports” the measures taken by Gov. John Bel Edwards, whose “stay at home” statewide order through April 12 has closed all casinos, movie theaters, bars, schools, and “non-essential” businesses; limited public gatherings to 10 people or less; and limited restaurants to take-out and delivery services with no on-site dining.

In a press conference Tuesday, Edwards said the state has “ramped up” its testing to determine the extent of the disease. The Department of Health reported 6,000 completed tests on Monday, more than 8,600 completed tests on Tuesday, and now 11,451 completed tests as of Wednesday at noon.

Edwards also said he was “encouraged” to see hospitals conducting in-house testing and also referenced testing sites opening soon in Lafayette and Lake Charles.

“This is a good thing,” Edwards said, “because you never want to be in the blind about what you’re dealing with. The more testing we have… the better decisions we can make about what we’re facing.”

Despite the increase in testing across the state, Ricks said there have been no discussions about a possible testing site opening in Livingston Parish. In fact, what he is being told by the Department of Health regarding the coronavirus in his parish is “very limited.”

“We don’t know how many people have been tested,” he said. “We’ve asked for it, but the only information we’re getting is the number of positive cases, not even the names. We don’t know how many people have been tested or how many have been denied testing. There are a lot of unknowns in this thing.”

Ricks said he has been in contact with Dr. Gina LaGarde, regional medical director for Louisiana Office of Public Health Region 9, which covers Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington parishes.

According to Ricks, LaGarde has told him that Livingston Parish residents are being tested at either the North Oaks Health System in Hammond or the Baton Rouge General - Mid City. And while there have been no discussions regarding a testing facility yet, Ricks thinks that may change.

“We have not talked about opening a facility in Livingston Parish, but I think someone will bring that up as the numbers go up,” he said.

Despite the governor’s order keeping most people indoors, Ricks said he’s been “encouraged” by what he’s seen in Livingston Parish. He said his office has received very few “negative comments,” with most “understandably” focusing on the duration.

Ricks said he plans to extend his closure of Livingston Parish government facilities through Sunday, April 12, to match with the end of the governor’s “stay at home” order. That announcement should come “soon,” Ricks said before thanking locals for heeding the governor’s order.

“I’m very thankful that people out here are beginning to take it seriously,” he said. “We don’t want to be overly fearful, but at the same time, we want to be smart and diligent about how we handle it.

“A lot of times, when a city or parish closes, people get beat up by it, but I’m not hearing all the negative comments you usually do. You’ll always have some, but even that has been minimal.”

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