Gov. John Bel Edwards announces a $1 million lottery as a vaccine incentive program in Louisiana. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)
Louisiana health officials said Thursday that low vaccination rates and a new strain of the novel coronavirus are responsible for a rising number of cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19. In an online news conference Thursday, those officials also warned that yet another COVID-19 surge is likely.
According to State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter, seven of nine regions in Louisiana have had an increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases over the last 18 days, and the statewide positivity rates for those getting tested for COVID-19 was 4% in the past week compared to 3.1% the week before.
Over the last two weeks, 100 people were newly hospitalized for COVID-19, bringing the total number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients up to 351.
“Without a doubt, we’re now seeing increases. It really is the first time since the vaccine campaign got going in earnest that we’re seeing increases,” Kanter said. “It is concerning. I think we’re just in the beginning of it, and it’s difficult to know where we are now, how severe of an increase this will be.”
Region 9 Medical Director Dr. Gina LaGarde said that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are up for Louisianians who live on the northshore of Lake Pontchartrain.
“The reason for cases and hospitalizations is multifactorial,” LaGarde said. “Part of it is the Delta variant, another factor is the lowered vaccination rates. We were doing very well early on, but we have seen a slowdown in our vaccinations.”
The Delta variant is about 60% more transmissible, is more virulent and also seems to infect younger people at a higher rate. About 52% of all new COVID-19 cases in the country are being attributed to the Delta variant, according to the CDC.
“It’s clear right now that Covid is increasing throughout the state and the risk of being exposed to Covid when one goes about their day to day activities is higher now than it was a couple weeks ago. There is also very little doubt that this is because of the Delta variant,” Kanter said.
Kanter stressed the importance of vaccination. Currently 39% of Louisianians have initiated or completed vaccination, but if Delta continues to spread, more breakthrough cases are possible.
1,763 people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, with 103 individuals hospitalized because of breakthrough infections.
Louisiana Department of Health officials stress the need for residents to get vaccinated. One current initiative is Shot At A Million, a lottery in which vaccinated Louisianians have the chance to win $1 million.
Officials are waiting for CDC recommendations before considering any changes to Louisiana guidelines for K-12 education or new restrictions, Kanter said.
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