Louisiana reports infant’s death from latest COVID-19 spike
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s latest COVID-19 surge has killed a child under the age of 1, the health department said Wednesday, as the state continues to see dozens of new deaths from coronavirus infections each day.
The Department of Health did not provide the infant’s exact age or where the death occurred, but said it was the first COVID-19 death of a child in six months. Eleven children younger than 18 have died from the disease in Louisiana since the pandemic began, according to the state.
“Each COVID-19 death in Louisiana has been heart wrenching, but the loss of such a young child, who could not be vaccinated yet, is tragic and a stark reminder of the difficult circumstance we are in throughout Louisiana,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement.
The child’s death was one of 110 reported in Wednesday’s latest coronavirus figures, with 85 of the deaths listed as confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 25 as probable. The disease is blamed for more than 12,000 deaths in Louisiana, a state undergoing its fourth coronavirus surge since the pandemic began in early 2020.
Hospitalizations statewide dropped slightly in Wednesday’s numbers to 2,844. That’s 12 fewer than the day before. But the number remains well above the peaks of earlier surges. The New Orleans region has seen a slow but steady downward trend, and hospitalizations in the region immediately north of Lake Pontchartrain have dropped by almost 100 since Aug. 11. But central, and northwestern Louisiana have seen multiple days of increased hospitalizations.
Stress on hospitals and increasing numbers of pediatric coronavirus cases are among the reasons Edwards and state health officials have repeatedly implored people to get vaccinated.
Only 40% of Louisiana residents are fully immunized against COVID-19, according to state health department data. That’s one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with only five states registering lower inoculation levels, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There have been signs of increasing vaccinations in recent days. In New Orleans, 55% of the total population is fully vaccinated, according to city health department figures. And 79% of the city’s adult residents have had at least one shot.
Also, higher education leaders said Wednesday that coronavirus vaccinations among Louisiana’s college students are increasing as the state offers $100 cash cards for those who get the shots and as campuses start setting immunization requirements.
Presidents of Louisiana’s four public college systems praised the Democratic governor’s decision to set aside $7.5 million to pay for the cash cards for up to 75,000 college students who roll up their sleeves for the inoculation.
“This is one that we’ve already seen has had a significant impact on the number of students that are seeking vaccination,” said University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson. “Those are the types of strategies we think are going to be important to reach the vaccination levels necessary to protect our campuses.”
The “Shot for $100” campaign has persuaded more than 2,600 students so far to get immunized against the coronavirus illness, and those numbers are only expected to increase as 12 campuses are starting classes this week, Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed told the Board of Regents.
Louisiana has 200,000 college students. All four of the state’s public college systems are requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The requirements kick in as early as Sept. 10 for students at Louisiana State University to submit proof of their first shot and later in the fall for other schools.
But Louisiana has a fairly broad set of vaccine exemptions under state law. Students can provide a doctor’s note citing a medical condition that precludes getting the vaccine or a “written dissent” form objecting to the shot.
Henderson told the Board of Regents that Louisiana is one of 15 states that allow a philosophical objection to avoid an immunization requirement, making it impossible to really mandate a vaccine. He said more than 80% of faculty across the UL System’s nine campuses are vaccinated, but only about 40% of their 92,000 students are.
“That number is increasing. It’s not increasing fast enough, but it is increasing,” Henderson said.
LSU says 54% of the 39,000 students and employees at its main campus in Baton Rouge have reported they have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccination.
Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.