Dr. Joesph Kanter and Gov. John Bel Edwards at Friday’s COVID-19 press conference (Photo by Rachel Mipro/Louisiana Illuminator)
BATON ROUGE – Louisiana now has the highest growth in COVID-19 cases per capita in the country, Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a Friday afternoon press conference, and he pleaded with the people of the state to get vaccinated to protect themselves from sickness and death.
While the state’s vaccine lottery campaign has helped boost vaccination numbers, much higher vaccination rates are needed to stem the surging Delta transmission rates. Only around 40% of Louisianians are currently vaccinated or in the process of vaccination.
Louisiana State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter said at the news conference that the statewide average of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents has jumped 208% the last 14 days. Since Monday, the state has counted 16,898 new positive cases of COVID-19, more than 80% of them cases caused by the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
“This really is the perfect storm,” Edwards said. “The conditions are ripe for catastrophic outcomes for far too many individuals.”
With schools opening in just a few weeks and hospitals across the state short-staffed, Edwards urged new safety precautions. Starting Monday, executive branch agencies will require masks for state employees, but Edwards did not announce a resumption of mask mandates or impose new COVID-19 safety precautions statewide.
Instead, he recommended that people avoid crowds, wear masks indoors and that businesses review their COVID-19 policies and precautions.
There are no vaccines available for children younger than 12, and at the governor’s July 16 news conference, Catherine O’Neal, the medical director of infection control and prevention at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, said, “Delta variant is coming for our children. We are seeing increased admissions, we are seeing increased office visits, we are seeing sick kids and intubated kids today in our hospital.” Even so, at Friday’s news conference, Edwards said decisions about whether students should wear masks at school will be left to local governments to decide.
According to updated Friday numbers from the Louisiana Department of Health, there are currently 3,127 new COVID-19 cases across the state and 11 new COVID-19 deaths. Additionally, there are 1,008 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and 82 COVID-19 patients on ventilators.
Among vaccinated people, breakthrough cases have become more common. Kanter said numbers on breakthrough cases will be released when all the data has been collected and analyzed. He said such cases are still relatively milder for those who are vaccinated than those for those who aren’t.
“To be completely transparent,” Kanter said, “The number of breakthrough cases we will see will go up as the amount of COVID in the community goes up.”
According to the state’s latest numbers, 92.7% of COVID-19 cases reported last week were among those not fully vaccinated. About 90% of the 1,008 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are not fully vaccinated, and 91% of COVID-19 deaths across the state last week were among those not fully vaccinated.
“I’m pleading with people,” Edwards said, adding that when the COVID-19 vaccines are fully approved by the FDA — and not under emergency use authorization — he believes more Louisianians will be open to getting the shot.
“We also look forward to that day,” Edwards said, “because it can be added to the list of vaccines that will become mandatory for K-12 schools, for higher education, and so forth. I believe we will see a large increase in people who are vaccinated when that happens.”
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