Virus claims record-high hospitalizations across Louisiana

Hospitals issue new vaccine mandates for staff

By: - August 3, 2021 7:25 pm
Virus reaches new record of hospitalizations in Louisiana

A “prone team,” wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), prepares to turn a COVID-19 patient onto his stomach in a Stamford Hospital intensive care unit (ICU), on April 24, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. Photo by John Moore | Getty Images

Louisiana’s novel coronavirus pandemic reached a new pinnacle Tuesday as state health officials announced a record-setting 2,112 COVID-19 hospitalizations  statewide. The number of hospitalizations eclipsed the previous Jan. 7 high-point by 43, according to figures from the Louisiana Department of Health. 

During a Monday news conference in which Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a reinstatement of the statewide face mask mandate, State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter said epidemiology trends indicated the hospitalization record would not only be broken Tuesday but would also continue to rise.

Health officials consider the hospitalization rate one of the most important factors in managing a pandemic because it directly indicates the state’s healthcare capacity. Throughout the pandemic, the governor has pointed to hospitalizations as the factor behind several of his mitigation decisions. 

Each additional hospitalization of a COVID-19 patient reduces a hospital’s ability to treat other emergencies and illnesses, according to doctors who joined Edwards during his Monday news conference. Across the state, patients have been stranded in waiting rooms because beds are not available. At Natchitoches Regional Medical Center, patients have lingered in waiting rooms for up to four days, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Phyllis Mason said. 

The state health department reported 4,725 new cases for a total of more than a half-million since the pandemic reached Louisiana March 2020 and 59 new daily deaths for a total of 11,085. The statewide positivity rate is above 13%. Louisiana remains the worst in the nation for the most new daily cases per capita — a ranking it has held for nearly two weeks. The second worst state, Florida,  is “not even close,” Edwards said.  

Dr. Kanter said the aggressive Delta variant of COVID-19 is proving at least twice as transmissible as previous strains.

The unvaccinated population accounts for 90% of the cases and 89% of deaths, according to health department data. The largest share of infections is in the 18-29 age group.

Hospitalizations related to breakthrough infections of vaccinated people remain rare. If exposed to the virus, a fully vaccinated person is about eight times less likely to be infected, 25 times less likely to be hospitalized and 25 times less likely to die, Kanter said Monday. 

One “silver lining,” Kanter said, is the gravity of the situation has apparently caused a nearly four-fold increase in vaccinations. Last week, the state was averaging about 2,000 vaccine initiations per day, but that number has jumped to more than 11,000 a day, he said.

Low vaccination rates among hospital staff across the state are prompting some administrators to implement new vaccine mandates. On Tuesday Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System in Baton Rouge announced a new vaccine mandate for all team members, providers, residents, students, contractors and volunteers, and Baton Rouge General made a similar announcement shortly thereafter, according to the Advocate.

Kanter urged anyone with any symptoms, no matter how mild, to get tested at their local pharmacy or testing center and limit contact with other people. Those with only mild symptoms should stay away from emergency rooms and go elsewhere for testing.

“I’m going to ask you to avoid emergency departments if possible,” he said. “Don’t mistake me, if you are sick — really sick — go to the E.R. and don’t hesitate. But if you have very mild symptoms or if just need a test, I’m going to ask you until the hospitals get some more breathing room to find other places to receive those services.”

People 12 and older can get vaccinated free of charge at most large and local pharmacies around the state. Those interested should call their area pharmacy for more information.

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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