January was Louisiana’s second deadliest month for COVID-19

The state’s top health official expects a fourth surge in cases later this year

Louisiana COVID-19 deaths
More Louisiana residents died of COVID-19 in January than any other month except for April of 2020. (Graphic from Louisiana Department of Health)

Louisiana just got through its second deadliest month of the COVID-19 pandemic. In January, 1,178 people died as a result of contracting COVID-19. The only deadlier month for the state was April, when over 1,705 people died of COVID-19, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Of those who died in January, most people died recently. Gov. John Bel Edwards said 1,000 Louisiana residents died over just the last three weeks. The state passed a total of 9,000 COVID-19 deaths overall Wednesday (Feb. 4).

“There is no doubt that the surge in deaths are attributable to the increase in travel — to gatherings and to activities related to the holidays,” Edwards said at a press conference Thursday. “We can all decide that is an unacceptable cost to bear, especially when this is preventable.”

COVID-19 cases in Louisiana started to increase for the third time at the beginning of November and really surged after Christmas. They have been dropping since the middle of January, but a surge in deaths tends to lag a spike in cases. People are often sick with COVID-19 for several days — and even weeks — before they die.

“We should continue to expect to see those increased death counts for a couple of more weeks,” said Joe Kanter, Louisiana’s top medical officer, Thursday.

April of 2020, Louisiana’s deadliest month of the pandemic, followed the 2020 Mardi Gras season, when COVID-19 virus was seeded in the state and before mitigation measures — such as mask-wearing — were used to prevent its spread. 

The governor expressed concern that Super Bowl gatherings this Sunday and the Mardi Gras season might drive COVID-19 spread just as cases are beginning to fall.

“Shame on us if Mardi Gras 2021 looks anything like Mardi Gras 2020 with the number of people with COVID in our state and across the country this year,” Edwards said.

State officials are particularly worried because a new variant of COVID-19, which spreads more easily — and possibly causes more severe illness — is already in Louisiana. There are five confirmed cases of the “U.K. variant” in the state and 20 additional cases of the “U.K. variant” are likely. It could be the dominant strain of COVID-19 by the middle of March, Edwards and Kanter said.

The state anticipates a fourth spike in COVID-19 cases and possibly deaths in Louisiana later this year, as this new variant takes hold, Kanter said.

“Unfortunately I think the [U.K. variant] is going to hit us before we have enough vaccine available to us to administer and achieve herd immunity,” Kanter said.

“It’s somewhat disappointing news. I think none of us eight months ago thought we would be having surges this late in the game and certainly no one is happy about that,” he said.