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'This is historic': St. John Parish reels from rapid coronavirus spread

As of Tuesday, St. John the Baptist Parish, with a population of almost 46,000 people and no hospital, has the third highest COVID-19 death rate in Louisiana

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, La. — In his 32 years as coroner for St. John the Baptist Parish, Dr. Christy Montegut says he's never seen anything like the grip coronavirus has on his community.

"Never, this is historic," said Montegut. "We’re having trouble keeping up, but we had probably 14, 15 cases since last Thursday.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, St. John the Baptist Parish, with a 2010 census population of almost 46,000 people and no hospital, has the third highest COVID-19 death rate in the state. The latest numbers from the Louisiana Department of Health show 104 cases with 12 deaths. 

Montegut says because of a lag in reporting, the number of those who died is closer to 20.

"The vast majority of these people though were older individuals and just about all of them had multiple chronic medical problems, which made them very susceptible," said Montegut. 

Also susceptible, folks living at two large nursing homes in the parish.   

"A lot of debilitated people in those facilities and one of the nursing homes, the Louisiana War Vets Home, had a spike in cases in the last five days too," said Montegut. 

Across parish lines, St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne is paying close attention to what's happening.

"It's very concerning and it's very alarming too," said Dufresne. "Things haven't changed daily, they've changed hourly.”

While not as drastic, St. James Parish is dealing with an increase. Numbers from the state show 77 cases and four deaths as of Tuesday afternoon.

"It's very disheartening to see these types of numbers in our parish and it almost makes me feel somewhat helpless in a way because there’s really nothing we can do about it," Dufresne said. 

Both men say, for the most part, folks in their parishes are complying with recommended guidelines but feel there's always more that can be done. 

"We're trying to get the word out to the public the need to be more vigilant and take this very seriously because, especially in the last week, things have kind of changed out here," Montegut said.

Both counties have been working to make sure folks are aware of CDC recommended guidelines and are stressing the importance of staying home during this time. 

“We can only do so much, you know, it’s not like we can implement a government policy to fix things. You just can’t do that at this time, it’s up to each individual to be responsible and accountable for their own actions,” said Dufresne.

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