La. already reached peak in COVID-19 deaths, model says | Local/State Headlines

The probability that deaths stemming from COVID-19 have already reached their peak in Louisiana is about 99 percent, a new model says.

The new model from the University of Texas at Austin, COVID-19 Mortality Projections for U.S. States, uses local data from mobile phone GPS to measure the changing effect of social distancing measures on “flattening the curve.” Flattening the curve refers to efforts trying to keep COVID-19 cases from overwhelming medical facilities all at once.

For example, the model shows 65 deaths related to COVID-19 were reported on April 6 while 32 deaths were reported on Tuesday. The number of deaths is expected to drop below 10 a day by April 30, according to the model.

In spite of similar estimates that Louisiana is trending downward, Gov. John Bel Edwards has declined to say whether the state’s social distancing restrictions would be lifted after April 30.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Edwards acknowledged that people across the state were waiting on him to provide details about what might happen after April 30.

“I just don’t have that information for you,” Edwards said.

Across the state, some 25,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,400 deaths were reported earlier this week. Of those figures, more than 500 cases and 13 deaths were reported in Ouachita Parish.

Meanwhile, across the country, many states are preparing to implement enter the first phase of President Trump’s plan to gradually restart the economy by slowly loosening social distancing restrictions in states where a downward trend in COVID-19 cases is confirmed.

Like New York, the probability the peak of deaths has already passed or will pass within the next 7-14 days is 99 percent, according to the UT Austin model.

During his news conference, Edwards did not discuss how or when the state might prepare to enter the first phase of reopening the state’s economy. Edwards touted how many page views the state Department of Health’s website generated, the contributions of hand sanitizers and masks by different groups, resources for people who are stressed or anxious, and what he was doing to “de-stress.”

“What I haven’t been doing as much as I should and what I should do is more exercise,” Edwards said. “I encourage other people to do that as well.”

“Watch a good movie. I don’t recommend watching a horror movie or anything related to a pandemic,” Edwards added.

Later while taking questions, Edwards suggested the stay-at-home order might not be in full effect on May 1 but declined to elaborate further.

Edwards pointed out that Trump, other federal officials and health experts have all agreed the country cannot simply reopen but begin a gradual process of relaxing social distancing restrictions.

“I’d bet that on May 1 we will be under a different order than what we’re under now,” Edwards said. “It’s not like we go back to where we were before, but it will be a gradual phase, reopening parts of the economy. Social distancing will remain a prominent feature of daily life. There will still be restrictions on crowd size and other limitations to make sure we do things as safely as possible.”

The UT Austin model is similar to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model at the University of Washington, except that the UT Austin model analyzes the effectiveness of social distancing measures to estimate its death rate.

“While more uncertain forecasts may be disconcerting, we believe that they reflect the true range of possibilities that could unfold in the weeks ahead,” said UT Austin professor James Scott. “Our model stands on the shoulders of the IHME model, but it corrects critical statistical flaws that led the IHME model to make many projections that, in retrospect, have turned out to be far too optimistic.”

The UT Austin model was presented to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as to the White House earlier this week.

“On average, there seems to be a 3-4 week lag between when someone gets infected with COVID-19 and when they’re at risk of death,” said UT Austin professor Lauren Meyers, who leads the modeling consortium. “That means we’re just beginning to see the life-saving benefits—and the clear signal in the data—of social distancing that began in mid- to late March.”

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