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7th Louisiana death from virus, with New Orleans epicenter

Louisiana

Health workers screen for the COVID-19 coronavirus at a drive-through outside of West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, La., on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Three more New Orleans area residents have died from the coronavirus disease spreading across the country, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday, bringing the state’s death toll from the virus to seven as the number of positive cases in Louisiana rose above 250.

The epicenter of the virus in Louisiana remains the New Orleans region, with most of the positive tests and all of the state’s deaths. Four of the people who died from the virus were residents of a New Orleans retirement home, Lambeth House, which has seen a cluster of cases. Two of the victims announced Wednesday, aged 98 and 92, were residents there, Edwards said. The third victim was from the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson Parish, the governor said.

But increased testing showed the COVID-19 disease also had reached the state’s capital city of Baton Rouge, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. Positive tests for the virus statewide jumped to 257, up from 196 a day earlier.

Edwards warned the numbers likely will “jump tremendously” within 36 hours as testing ramps up statewide.

“I want people to be prepared for this,” the governor said. “It is going to get much worse before it gets better.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a doctor, said Louisiana has the third-highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita in the nation. But he acknowledged the state has limited knowledge about the full spread, because of the initial slow pace of testing.

A drive-thru testing center in Baton Rouge that shuttered Tuesday after running out of testing kits was reopening Wednesday, according to the mayor’s office. Edwards said new drive-thru test sites in New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish would open Friday.

The grim uptick — and drastic restrictions enacted to try to contain the virus’ spread — prompted the postponement of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a huge tourism driver that draws hundreds of thousands of people yearly. The festival will be rescheduled for the fall.

With schools shuttered across Louisiana, the state education department asked federal officials to suspend standardized testing requirements for public school students, along with school performance scores and letter grades.

Edwards defended his restrictions against pushback his actions are too harsh. The governor said he’s taking the advice of public health officials to slow the spread of the virus to avoid strain on the health care system. In a rare moment of agreement with the Democratic governor, Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry described the governor’s aggressive actions as legal and aimed at protecting the public.

“He is acting with restraint and with consideration to individual liberties and freedoms, and I appreciate that,” Landry said Wednesday, appearing at a news conference with Edwards.

The governor’s actions mirror decisions by other states’ governors. Louisiana law enforcement agencies said they intend to enforce Edwards’ limitations on events and businesses.

Trying to keep more people in their homes, Edwards brought one of Louisiana’s most popular figures to his Wednesday briefing with reporters, LSU football coach Ed Orgeron, who led the school to a national championship earlier this year.

Orgeron told Louisiana’s residents to follow the governor’s advice: “Have faith in the game plan. We’re going to get through this.”

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McGill reported from New Orleans.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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