SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Regional planning projections released Thursday by the Louisiana Department of Health show that while aggressive mitigation measures appear to be effectively flattening the COVID-19 curve, the state could be grappling with the virus at least until the end of the year.
The LDH released projections Thursday intended to show where the number of coronavirus infections in each of the state’s nine regions might peak before tapering off, depending on different scenarios based on the level of social distancing measures taken. The graphs also show how each level of social distancing would play out in terms of how many would be hospitalized and on ventilators for each region.
For each region, there are three planning projections:
- One shows infectious persons per day under four scenarios:
- Red line: Baseline (no interventions)
- Yellow line: Scenario the state was initially planning on
- Blue line: Where we would be if we effectively practiced social distancing
- Purple line: Where we would be if we effectively stayed at home
- The second two planning projections show hospitalization and vent projections under two of the above scenarios. The black line is where Louisiana is as of April 16, based on conditions on the ground. This shows most regions are currently tracking at or below the lowest projected scenario, i.e., staying at home, thanks to the concerted efforts of our healthcare system.
In Region 7, which covers Northwest Louisiana, the projections show the number of infections spiking in early May with more than 55,000 infected at peak under the worst-case scenario if no social distancing measures were taken. Under the initial scenario the state was planning for, the models show about a peak of about 40,000 people becoming infected in mid-May.
But with effective social distancing at the very least, the peak number of infections drops to around 25,000 in late May. All three of those scenarios have the number of people predicted to become infected tapering off between early July and into September.
The final scenario shows that with effective sheltering in place, the number of infections in Northwest Louisiana would peak well below 10,000 in August, with case tapering off by January.
The population of the nine Region 7 parishes adds up to more than 540,000 according to the latest census data available from 2010. As of April 16, there were 1,748 confirmed cases in NWLA and 91 deaths reported.
While the graphs are only projections showing infection and hospitalization rates under different scenarios, they do show that flattening the curve will require social distancing to continue into well into the fall. By definition, flattening the curve means keeping the number of infections from spiking all at once and instead spreading the out over a longer period.
“Forecasting what is going to happen with COVID-19 in the state of Louisiana is challenging and nearly impossible,” said Interim Secretary of the Department of Health Stephen Russo. “Just as it is impossible to forecast the exact weather and temperature on a given day.”
“While these planning projections show our healthcare system may not be overwhelmed, they also show that we are not out of the woods,” said Assistant Secretary of the Office of Public Health Alex Billioux. “It’s important that we continue to do our part to protect ourselves and our families.”
“These planning projections are good news and it’s good news we all need to hear right now. It means we are moving in the right direction but we must stay on course,” said Secretary Russo. “There is significant concern that if we make sudden changes or stop social distancing that we will see another large spike and strain on our health care resources.”
Technical note on planning projections:
- By definition, the model’s planning projections have changed and will continue to change.
- Changes in planning projections should not be interpreted as inaccuracy of the models. Changes are largely driven by changing conditions on the ground.
- Use of these planning projections to drive the state’s response will inherently change the results of the projections daily.
Here is a link to the full set of regional projections, last updated on April 16, 2020: http://ldh.la.gov/COVID-19Modeling.
Next week, the Department of Health will release a comprehensive brief on its modeling to date.