COVID-19 in Louisiana: as bad as it’s been and getting worse

Gov. John Bel Edwards
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (Photo by Wes Muller/LA Illuminator).

“There’s never been more COVID in Louisiana than there is now,” the state’s top public health officer said at a press conference Tuesday.  The risk of community spread and transmission has never been higher than it is now, Joe Kanter, the interim head of the Office of Public Health said, and, he said even higher numbers are likely on the horizon. “We know that all the transmission that occurred over New Year’s, for example, and the subsequent second and third generation transmissions from that have not come yet.”

The state’s discouraging numbers — 4,673 new cases and 53 new deaths since Monday — were cited by Gov. John Bel Edwards at that press conference when he said that the state will remain in what he’s calling a “modified Phase 2” for four more weeks. “The state remains in a precarious place,” Edwards said. “Cases and hospitalizations are increasing in every region.”

There were 2,035 people in Louisiana hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms Tuesday (53 more than there were Monday), and 244 of those COVID-19 patients were on ventilators.

Phase 2 restrictions require restaurants, gyms and retail businesses to operate at no more than  50 percent capacity, cap sporting events at 25 percent attendance capacity and prevent indoor sales at bars in parishes where the COVID-19 testing positivity rate is above 5 percent. The restrictions also include a statewide mask mandate.

“These continued mitigation measures are completely necessary, but they only work if people follow them. Informal social gatherings are the biggest culprit right now and people need to understand that you should not be spending time with those outside of your household unless it is absolutely necessary.”

In addition to holiday travel and the corresponding increase in the number of social gatherings, Kanter said he believes “COVID fatigue” is also playing a role in the spread of the novel coronavirus across the state.

Flipping the page to the new year doesn’t mean all the bad stuff is behind us, he said.

“Just because it’s 2021, it’s not going to look different,” Kanter said. “Not for a few more months… we all have a lot of fatigue, and we’re ready for this thing to be done, but as the governor mentioned, it’s not done with us.”

Louisiana is now in its second stage of vaccine distribution. Hospital workers, nursing home residents and staff, residents 70 years old or older, end-stage renal disease patients and students, residents, faculty and staff of allied health schools are among those eligible to sign up for shots. According to Tuesday’s numbers, 159,698 Louisianans have received at least one injection of the vaccine. Of that number, 21,652 have received both doses.

Kanter said he hopes the state’s vaccine distribution hasn’t created a false sense of security for Louisianans either.

“We’re not going to get to a point with the vaccine where it makes a public health impact until months down the road,” Kanter said.

A new variant of the novel coronavirus that was first detected in the United Kingdom in September and spreads more easily and more quickly has now been detected in the U.S. 

Edwards  the state hasn’t confirmed any cases of the new variant, but said scientists at Tulane are conducting genetic sequencing tests on COVID-19 samples to see if the variant is in the state.

Though none of those samples has come back positive, Edwards said, “We should all assume it’s here… but it doesn’t make any difference as far as what we should be doing right now” and Louisianans should continue to wash their hands, maintain social distancing and wear a mask.