Louisiana keeps breaking COVID-19 hospitalization records
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s chief public health officer said Friday that about 1% of the state’s entire population has become infected with COVID-19 over the past two weeks as coronavirus hospitalizations continue to climb to new heights amid the state’s worst surge since the pandemic began.
“We continue to set new records for the amount of COVID that circulates in our communities, and we continue to not yet see any tangible signs that we are turning the corner. And that, quite frankly, is terrifying,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s top coronavirus adviser.
For the fourth day, Louisiana set new coronavirus hospitalization records. The state Department of Health reported 2,421 people were in hospitals around the state with COVID-19, more than eight times the number hospitalized at the start of July.
Gov. John Bel Edwards warned Louisiana’s 4.6 million residents that their state’s place at the epicenter of the latest coronavirus surge isn’t lessening.
Louisiana is confirming thousands of new coronavirus cases each day, driven by the highly contagious delta variant. The state has seen the highest number of new cases per capita across the country over the last week, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows Louisiana averaging 653 COVID-19 infections for every 100,000 residents.
“We have no reason to believe in our data that we’ve reached the peak,” the Democratic governor said.
The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive continues to go up in Louisiana, reaching more than 15% Friday in a sign that the situation is worsening. Kanter said 15% of emergency room visits in the state are now related to COVID-19.
Inundated with coronavirus patients, 50 hospitals have asked the state for staffing assistance, warning they can no longer adequately provide care to the community, Kanter said. Louisiana is seeking disaster medical assistance teams from the federal government. One team with nearly three dozen health care workers arrived Monday at Louisiana’s largest hospital — Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge.
Edwards offered some signs of hope, pointing to growing numbers of people newly seeking coronavirus vaccines. Kanter said immunizations increased more than 500% over the last month.
The state has a long way to go, with one of the nation’s lowest coronavirus vaccination rates. Only 37% of Louisiana’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state health department data.
The governor reissued a statewide mask mandate this week, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry is trying to undermine the requirement. The attorney general has publicly posted sample letters for parents to seek a philosophical or religious exemption from the mask mandate at schools — or from a vaccine mandate if one was enacted.
Landry also released a legal opinion Friday that suggested the governor couldn’t require masks in K-12 schools, arguing that authority rests with the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and state lawmakers. A legal opinion doesn’t have the force of law, and many of the state’s school systems have indicated they intend to follow Edwards’ mask mandate.
Edwards, also a lawyer, called the Landry opinion “completely wrong.” He said the attorney general is irresponsibly trying to undermine the guidance of public health experts. Landry has accused Edwards of trying to govern through dictatorship.
Appearing with the governor at his COVID-19 briefing Friday was Dr. John Vanchiere, a pediatrician and director of community testing and vaccination outreach at LSU Health Shreveport. Vanchiere urged parents to place masks on their children, saying the delta variant is more virulent among children than prior strains of the coronavirus illness. He said more than 20% of new COVID-19 infections in Louisiana are happening in children in the latest surge.
“This is not a time for politics, for fighting and threatening lawsuits about having to wear a mask,” Vanchiere said. “Masks save lives.”