Pictured is Mercy Regional Medical Center in Ville Platte which is now conducting drive-thru testing for COVID-19. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
There is a new word in the COVID-19 pandemic for Ville Platte residents, Mayor Jennifer Vidrine and the Ville Platte City Council. The word is frustration. The residents are frustrated because the city has not reopened for business and the council is frustrated over the lack of testing for the residents. It has become a dilemma for the council and the mayor and the rest of the parish. The mayor is diligently working to get more tests in the City of Ville Platte, day and night.
“The community is frustrated the council and I haven’t reopened all the businesses because we are still complying with the Governor’s Stay at Home Order until April 30. We will revisit the issue once the Governor issues new guidelines. In addition, we will follow with the current precautions as long as the order is in place. We understand everyone’s concerns,” Vidrine said earlier this week. “The council and I are frustrated because we really can’t open the economy until we have testing for the residents.”
As of Sunday the parish had only reported 43 cases of COVID-19 with no deaths. The parish, by far has the lowest numbers in the surrounding parishes and the only parish with no deaths.
“Most residents have really listened to the concerns we had when all of this started in early March,” Vidrine said. “Most stayed home and practiced “social distancing” but until we have testing for everyone those guidelines may need to continue.” She added that everyone should practice ‘social distancing,’ wearing a mask, one person one buggy rule at stores and follow the curfew set by Ville Platte for juveniles 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. and for adults from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. People that see people breaking the curfew or other guidelines they are asked to get the Ville Platte app and report the violation or call 911.
There are three sites in the parish that offers testing. One is Savoy Medical Center in Mamou, Mercy Regional in Ville Platte and SouthStar Urgent Care in Ville Platte. All three offer a nasal swab, which takes one day to return at Mercy and Savoy while its just five minutes at SouthStar. At the three locations, you must have a fever of 100.4 or higher, coughing and feeling fatigue to be tested.
The biggest news of the week came on Tuesday when the FDA announced the approval of a home-testing kit for COVID-19. Dr. Aswell said that will be a big help once the tests can be distributed nation-wide. He said it will speed up the number of tests given to individuals.
Dr. Chuck Aswell, a physician in Ville Platte, backed up Vidrine’s comments saying until more testing is made available in the Ville Platte community there will be uncertainty about the virus and who could or could not be carrying the virus. He did say the corporate headquarters at both hospitals are working to get more tests available as quickly as possible.
He did credit the healthcare workers at the hospitals and nursing homes for keeping the number of cases in the parish lower than area average. He added the work of all elected officials throughout the parish from Mayor Vidrine and Police Jury President Ryan Williams to State Senator Heather Cloud and State Representative Rhonda Butler for working to provide the information and resources needed for the parish.
“Everyone should be commended for their efforts and continued efforts concerning the safety and well being of the residents,” Dr. Aswell said.
Dr. Aswell said COVID-19 was unknown until the pandemic started in late 2019. There was only limited testing at first and those were done by large national laboratories. Early on, the turnaround was seven to ten days which was slow and hampering all doctors in making a proper diagnoses. The doctors realized the turnaround was not acceptable and started working with the state labs like DHH in Louisiana. The work of the state labs nationwide and their investigation allowed for the development of a point of care test that just takes five minutes for a positive result and 13 minutes for a negative result.
“This will allow us to put patient in one of four categories.” Aswell continued. “They are:
1. Patients test positive but are asymptomatic. They have the virus and don’t know it. They will be quarantine for 14 days at home.
2. Patients have symptoms like the flu. They will be treated and placed in quarantine for 14 days. This accounts for an estimated 80% of the patients who contract the virus.
3. These are patients with a high fever more than 100.4, muscle aches, nausea, fatigue and possible diarrhea. Their oxygen saturations are low the patient need chest x-rays and other tests. They are admitted to the hospital. These account for about 10% of COVID-19 cases but they receive treatment. The patient could get better or turn for the worse.
4. Patients have severe symptoms including severe pneumonia and blood clots in the lungs. They make up about 5% of the cases and are placed on ventilators and have the highest mortality rate.”
“Testing will be the only sure way to get the parish going again in the economy,” Aswell explained. “There are currently two types of test. The first is a nasal swab that shows if you have the virus. But the second test, when approved by the FDA (hopefully this week), is a simple finger prick blood test that will show if you have the antibodies, which will make you immune from the virus. The antibodies will also show if you have had the virus but may not have known it.” Dr. Aswell said. “FDA approval could come this week and then the tests would have to be distributed.”
Dr. Aswell said the people that don’t have the antibodies will have to be more cautious and continue to practicing ‘social distancing’ and wear a mask until a vaccine is developed to fight the virus. He added the pharmaceutical labs are working at break-neck speed to develop the studies and possible vaccines to benefit the patients.
He does expects a ‘bump’ in COVID-19 cases in the parish, as the economy starts to open up and people start moving around because of the warmer weather. How big of a bump and how many deaths will depend on how people remain cautious when they are out in the public.
Mayor Vidrine said this is the scenario that keeps her awake at night as well as her council members.
“This second wave of the virus is a huge concern for all of us,” she commented. “There are people that need to be tested but they can’t until more testing and testing sites are available. We are asking for more tests and sites but until it is announced our hands are tied. We need help so the businesses and residents can get back to a normal way of life. Whatever the new normal will be in our lives.”
She added her testing concerns is about the residents and businesses inside the Ville Platte city limits. She couldn’t answer for the parish or the other municipalities in Evangeline Parish.
“We must adhere to the current guidelines of so Dr. Aswell added as everything in the economy does start to open up, people should follow the current guidelines like ‘social distancing.’ “We can control the destiny of this virus like wearing a mask, coughing into your elbow, washing your hands for 20 seconds and social distancing,” he explained. “We live in a very religious parish and everyone wants to go back to church. When we are allowed back in church please have patience. I wouldn’t hug anyone or give a handshake in the coming months and stay six feet apart and wear a mask when sitting in church. The same goes with civic clubs and their large events. I know it will be hard but we need the patience to get through this event.”
“The reopening of the economy will be like a sunrise that is slow and steady. We are enduring the medical and economic and social hardships right now,” Dr. Aswell explained. “I will quote a philosopher who once said, ‘We can only appreciate the miracle of a sunrise while waiting in darkness.’”