N.O. Health Director: Coronavirus numbers back to Phase 1 levels

After a second wave of coronavirus cases in late June and early July, New Orleans is seeing some important numbers begin to fall, as kids start getting ready to go back to school. 

To get kids back into school, New Orleans health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno says they need the rate of positive tests results to hold at no more than five percent.

"I'm happy to report that since the beginning of August, we have been, on average, below five percent," she said.

Some private schools in the New Orleans area have been welcoming students back to classrooms. St. Bernard and St. Charles Parish public schools have reopened. Jefferson Parish public schools start two weeks from today. New Orleans public schools won't reopen classrooms until the day after Labor Day at the earliest.

The doctor said even as schools reopen, New Orleans will probably stay in phase two for the time being.

“If as a community we agree that schools and our children’s’ future is the priority, then reopening schools is the only restriction we should be relaxing for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Avegno.

"Success is a slow and steady approach to reopening, because going back and forth would be devastating," she said.

Dr. Avegno points out that percent-positive is just part of the puzzle, however. There also needs to be adequate hospital capacity, and while New Orleans-area hospitals are not overwhelmed, others in the state are being stretched to the limit -- and Dr. Avegno said metro area hospitals are taking transfers to help out.

"This pushes us closer to our threshold for concern," she explained. "And it's not just physical beds. Staffing shortages due to illness, fatigue, and increased demand for staff everywhere mean that there are often not enough nurses, techs, personnel to care for persons in beds."

But the bottom line, according to Dr. Avegno, is that she believes the community is headed in the right direction, as all the trends show improvement -- but she said it takes constant effort.

"The challenge is sustainability," she said. "This is really hard. It is hard for all of us."