BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards offered an update on vaccination progress and plans in Louisiana Thursday afternoon while warning of a surge upon a surge as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the coronavirus continue to rise from Thanksgiving heading into Christmas week.
Edwards held the weekly briefing as hospitalizations statewide reach an eight-month high. According to the latest update from the Louisiana Department of Health, there are now 1,602 patients hospitalized due to the coronavirus around the state. That is the highest level since July 24 when there were 1,600 hospitalizations statewide.
Edwards said hospital CEO around the state are “very concerned” about hospital capacity, as much about available staff as available beds.
New Orleans East Hospital CEO, Dr. Takeisha Davis is one of them, and she implored the public to do its part to stop the spread, and particularly to avoid large holiday gatherings.
“We are begging you to help us help you and please do not gather in large groups for the holidays.”
While the worst of the first surge hit New Orleans area hospitals hardest, Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter pointed out that the virus is much more widespread this time around and in every corner of the state. “We have no reason to think that it gets any better before it gets worse.”
The LDH reported 3,851 new COVID-19 cases statewide and 31 more deaths Thursday, bringing the cumulative number of confirmed and probable cases reported in the state to 279,321 and deaths to 6,964.
Still, Edwards said the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this week and vaccinations now underway among healthcare workers makes it an “exciting time” as it marks “the beginning of the end” of the pandemic.
Edwards said the has state received all 39,000 doses that were promised by the federal government and the vaccinations of at least 7,000 healthcare workers have been documented so far, although he believes many more than that have actually been inoculated.
The state will be notified every Friday of how many doses it can expect to receive the following week. The next group to get the vaccine will be residents of long-term care facilities. Edwards said the state is still waiting on recommendations from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on who to prioritize next.
“Every single person who gets the vaccine from here on out, that’s going to be a life saved,” said Dr. Kanter.
Vaccination numbers will also be added to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. The state has also changed the time period used to track newly diagnosed cases from a two-week period to seven days and added a new feature showing the level of risk for virus spread in each parish.
Kanter also said the state is launching a partnership with Walgreens to offer no-cost, contactless testing at more than 30 locations across the state. Those testing sites will be in addition to sites already operating around the state.
“Testing is really important,” said Kanter. “We can’t fight what we can’t see.”
The governor’s Phase 2 emergency orders are set to expire on Dec. 23. Edwards said he expects to review recommendations for how to proceed early next week, but noted that one thing for sure is that restrictions will not be lessened.