Louisiana expects omicron surge, with cases already on the rise

State health officials urge masking, vaccination

By: - December 20, 2021 8:32 pm
A surgical mask and an N95 mask hang on display for sale at a pharmacy. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

A surgical mask and an N95 mask hang on display for sale at a pharmacy. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Ahead of Christmas, Louisiana medical professionals Monday warned of a looming, fifth COVID-19 surge largely due to the rising cases of the extremely transmissible omicron variant

“If omicron is not already the dominant strain circulating in Louisiana, we feel that it will be very soon,” said Theresa Sokol, the state epidemiologist with the Louisiana Department of Health during a conference call with reporters. 

Louisiana’s COVID-19 statistics on Monday show 2,936 new COVID-19 cases, up from the 1,025 cases reported four days ago according to statistics provided from the Louisiana Department of Health’s website. Statewide, 241 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, a relatively low number, but one that’s expected to increase. Unvaccinated people account for 80% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state. 

Omicron is surging not just in Louisiana, but also nationally. Seventy-three percent of new infections last week in the United States were the omicron strain of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

As of Dec. 4, omicron cases only made up 4.3% of COVID-19 cases documented in the state.  Health officials now estimate that omicron cases account for 30% of cases in Louisiana less than three weeks later. There’s also been a rise in the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Louisiana. The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is currently at 3.3%, up from 2.1% the week before. 

The Louisiana Department of Health also reported that 35% of parishes were at high or substantial risk of spreading COVID-19 two weeks ago. This week, around 65% of Louisiana parishes are at high or substantial risk of transmission. 

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“We’re seeing over the past four days fairly substantial jumps each and every day,” Sokol said, urging residents to start masking again and to get booster shots.

 While omicron is more likely to cause breakthrough cases in vaccinated people than the delta variant, booster shots help reduce the risk of transmission. Only 25% of Louisianians eligible for booster shots have gotten them, said Gov. John Bel Edwards Friday.

Louisiana has a COVID-19 vaccination rate of just under 50 percent, compared with the national rate of 61.5 percent.  

Hospitals around the state are already feeling the impact of the expected surge, according to Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. O’Neal said staffing shortages were already beginning to occur due to hospital employees catching COVID-19. 

“We have seen what now just hardens your heart,” O’Neal said. “And that is the beginning of a surge. We’ve been through it so many times, the tell tale signs are all there.” 

O’Neal warned that treating COVID-19 patients who have the omicron variant would be much more difficult than treating patients who had the delta variant, as the usual antibody treatments aren’t as effective on the omicron strain. 

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“How high it gets, how painful this is for all of our families, it depends on our community,” O’Neal said. 

 

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

Rachel Mipro has previous experience at WBRZ and The Reveille and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. At LSU, she worked as an opinion editor for The Reveille and as a nonfiction editor for the university’s creative writing journal. In her free time, she enjoys baking, Netflix and hiking.

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