Gov. John Bel Edwards, shown here at an Aug. 2, 2021, press conference at the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, reinstated a statewide face mask mandate as Louisiana suffers the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the country. (Photo by Rachel Mipro | Louisiana Illuminator
Facing some of the worst COVID-19 statistics the state has seen and flanked by doctors from across Louisiana who said their hospitals are filled to capacity, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday that he is reinstating a statewide face mask mandate. The mandate will include everyone 5 and up, and will be in effect in all K-12 schools, which Edwards said is necessary to keep children, who are increasingly more vulnerable to the Delta strain, safe while learning.
Children 12 and under are not eligible for the vaccine.
“This is the worst one we’ve had thus far,” the governor said of this latest surge. The mask mandate, which takes effect on Wednesday, will last until Sept. 1, at which time the mandate may be renewed if necessary, the governor said.
The Louisiana Department of Health reported 11,109 new COVID-19 cases Monday, 1,984 total hospitalizations and 28 new deaths.
A New York Times COVID-19 tracker shows that over the last two weeks in the United States, there have been an average of 24 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. Louisiana’s rate has been 89 cases per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the United States.
According to Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana’s public health officer, the Delta variant is two times more transmissible than the original strains of the novel coronavirus. While vaccinated people are just as likely to transmit the virus as unvaccinated people, it’s eight times less likely for a fully vaccinated person to become infected, according to Kanter.
Louisiana residents under 29 are driving the surge currently, the state’s COVID-19 data reveals. Kanter said last year the average age of a Louisiana resident dying of COVID-19 was 75. This year, he said, the average age of a COVID-19 fatality has dropped to 65.
Of Monday’s newly confirmed cases, 2,079 were children. “Let’s rid ourselves of the notion that children can’t get COVID,” Gov. Edwards said.
These are the darkest days of this pandemic.
– Dr. Catherine O'Neal, Our Lady of the Lake, Baton Rouge
Dr. Mark Kline, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, said every pediatric hospital in Louisiana is at full-capacity with COVID-19 patients.
“I am as worried about our children today as I’ve ever been,” Kline said. “Children are being heavily impacted…perhaps more than ever before.”
Kline said at least half the COVID-19 patients at Children’s Hospital were otherwise “perfectly healthy,” dispelling any notion that only kids with underlying conditions are at risk.
“In a very short period of time, we’re going to be talking about influenza and this is another scenario that keeps me awake at night, the thought of having a dual COVID-19 and influenza epidemic,” Kline said. “We are very likely to have an ugly year where influenza is concerned.”
Other doctors and hospital officials who spoke at Monday’s news conference provided reports that were equally as troubling.
“These are the darkest days of this pandemic,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal at Baton Rouge’s Our Lady of the Lake . “We are no longer giving adequate care to patients,” she said because there are not enough beds and not enough doctors and nurses to tend to them all.
There’s not even enough medication. O’Neal said her facility ran out of a widely-used steroid treatment, Actemra, because so many other healthcare facilities are having to treat the same disease.
Dr. Phyllis Mason, chief medical officer at Natchitoches Regional Medical Center, said her hospital could no longer provide routine care because of the surge in COVID-19 and was forced to hold patients for several days in emergency waiting rooms.
“We don’t have the capacity on our medical floor to even admit these patients to a bed. We’re holding patients in the emergency room sometimes for up to two, three, four days before we can get them into our hospital,” Mason said. “In addition to that, other hospitals are at capacity as well.”
North Oaks Hospital in Hammond had 89 COVID-19 patients hospitalized and 13 others stuck in the emergency room waiting on beds to become available, CEO Michelle Sutton said.
North Oaks is licensed for 330 beds but currently only has enough staff to offer about 200 beds. She said 62 of the hospital’s 2,700 staff members are out sick with the virus. She said only about 43% of the North Oaks staff are fully vaccinated.
North Oaks has been offering $50 a shot for people who come in and get vaccinated. In response to a question, Gov. John Bel Edwards said his administration is looking at a similar incentive, but he pointed out that the “Shot at a Million” sweepstakes will result in one vaccinated Louisiana resident winning $1 million.
Near the end of Monday’s news conference, Gov. Edwards made mention of Louisiana’s reputation as the “most pro-life state in the nation. I want to believe that,” he said. “In this context, it ought to mean something.”
For weeks the governor and the doctors who join him during his news conferences have been sounding the alarm about the more troubling characteristics of the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus and how it has been putting more and more children at risk. But until recently, Edwards had said his administration would leave it to individual school districts to decide what COVID-19 mitigation strategies to put in place.
Edwards admitted on Friday that he was feeling pressure to take action and that he had fielded “numerous requests over the last 24 hours” from the healthcare sector and other entities to reinstate the statewide mask mandate that he put in place in July 2020.
Kline, the pediatrician, said during his turn at the microphone that the governor’s decision to require masks in school settings gave pediatricians a great sense of relief.
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