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Monday, May 18, 2020 - St. Tammany’s COVID-19 numbers are headed in the right direction, but there’s a caveat, STHS expert says



A banner hanging in the lobby of St. Tammany Parish Hospital in Covington makes it clear: We're all in this together. (Image via Tim San Fillippo)

By Mike Scott, mscott@stph.org

After the first weekend of loosened COVID-19 restrictions in Louisiana, western St. Tammany Parish unquestionably has reasons to be hopeful. For starters, the sun was shining Monday morning (May 18) after an ugly weather weekend.

More importantly, St. Tammany Health System had only five COVID-positive inpatients, its lowest number since shortly after the local outbreak began on March 10. Better yet, none of those five were on a ventilator.

But according to STHS infection disease specialist Dr. Mike Hill, now’s not the time for local residents to let down their guard.

In fact, with the Norway-based location data and analytics firm Unacast giving St. Tammany, Washington and Tangipahoa parishes each an “F” grade on its most recent social distancing scoreboard, the Northshore is entering a crucial, make-or-break time in its fight against COVID-19.

“The quicker we can get this virus out of our community, the faster we can get back to normalcy,” Hill said Monday morning. “And you don’t want to waste the two and a half months of misery we went through and have it spike back up.”

He continued: “We want the parish to open up. We want people to get back to work. We want the restaurants to open. But I really do think the hand washing, sanitizing and wearing a mask in public are going to be crucial to make sure we don’t spread this virus.”

When he’s out in public in St. Tammany Parish, Hill said, people in some places seem to be doing a fairly good job at social distancing and mask-wearing, with compliance sometimes as high as 80 or 90%. In other places, though, it’s more like 10%, he said.

He added that exercising social responsibility isn’t about protecting only yourself. It’s about protecting your neighbors and loved ones, as well.

“You do have a right to wear or not wear a mask,” he said. “But I would look at it is a courtesy to your neighbor, a courtesy to your loved ones. Think about your family, vulnerable people in your family you don’t want exposed. And if you’re not wearing a mask in public and other people are, you inadvertently could bring that disease back into the house and infect a vulnerable patient like your mother or grandmother or pregnant wife or whatever. You could be the vector and you could be fine, but you’re going to bring it back to somebody who may not be fine.”

With regard to the low number of COVID-positive inpatients at STHS on Monday – and the general reduction in the rate of infections statewide – it’s important to remember that a person infected with COVID-19 can be spreading the disease around for five days or more before they ever start feeling ill.

That means that Monday’s figures are actually reflective of social distancing efforts from early May and have nothing to do with the success or failure of the first weekend of the state’s phased re-entry to normal business operations. The real impact of the reopening won’t be evident for a week or two.

In the meantime, Hill said, St. Tammany Parish residents should stay the course – or, better yet, up their social responsibility game – if they want things to get back to normal sooner rather than later.

“Really and truly this is very simple,” Hill said. “This is a virus. This is like any other virus and any other infectious disease, and it’s spread by respiratory secretions primarily and by contaminated hands and surfaces. So, if we clean the surfaces and wash our hands, wear a mask – and, by the way, if you’re sick, stay out of the public altogether – if you follow those rules, that’s going to be crucial to make sure we don’t spread this virus.”

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Visit STPH.org/COVID-19  for the latest information on coronavirus in St. Tammany Parish.