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Gov. Edwards, state health officials warn public to take latest COVID-19 surge seriously

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – In a virtual briefing on Thursday, Governor John Bel Edwards and health officials strongly urged people to wear masks indoors, get vaccinated, and avoid large New Year’s Eve gatherings as Omicron surges.

Citing “very sobering numbers,” Edwards asked citizens to take the surge seriously.

“I’m very sorry that we’re back here,” Gov. Edwards said. “Unfortunately, we don’t get a vote in what this virus does, but we do get a choice on how we respond. As we close out the year, I strongly encourage you to join me in modifying your plans this New Year’s Eve and not gathering with people outside of your immediate household. This is unfortunately necessary as we work hard to mitigate the impact of this fifth Omicron-fueled surge.”

According to the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), 762 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 on Dec. 30, a 268% increase since December 16. The majority of them are not fully vaccinated.

The Louisiana Department of Health also reported 12,467 new cases and two new deaths on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to 828,695 and the total number of deaths to 14,986.

This LDH says 24% of the new cases are coming from Region 1 (Greater New Orleans), 20% from Region 2 (Baton Rouge), and 13% from Region 7 (Northwest).

Leading the virtual briefing via zoom from his home in Roseland, Edwards did not announce any plans to issue new emergency orders, but he did announce “new strong recommendations” for a safe return to K-12 schools after they return from Christmas break, including:

  • Mask universally indoors and outside when social distancing is not possible.
  • Stay at least 6 feet apart during mealtimes when masking is not possible.
  • Suspend extracurricular activities until statewide incidence is below 200 infections per 100,000 people.
  • Avoid holding social gatherings (e.g., school dances or pep rallies) until statewide incidence is below 200 infections per 100,000 people.
  • Get vaccinated and boosted when eligible.
  • Children should be tested prior to return to school.

“The data are clear,” said State Epidemiologist Theresa Sokol. “COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and percent positivity continue to climb at a startlingly fast rate, and we believe we are just starting to see the impact of the Omicron surge. That is why we must do everything we can going into this New Year’s weekend to slow its spread and stay safe.”

Sokol warned that if the recommended prevention measures are not followed, outbreaks could force school closures.

“I am urging families to follow our new public health recommendations as we prepare for our children to return to school – get yourself and your children vaccinated and boosted if eligible, get your children tested prior to the return to school, and continue to wear your masks indoors and outdoors. I know this is very tough and not where any of want to be, but we must do what we can to protect ourselves and our families.” 

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, medical director for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, says hospitals are seeing the fastest increase of COVID-19 cases in children. She is also urging people to get vaccinated and boosters, as well as children who are eligible.

“It is a community effort to end the pandemic,” said Dr. O’Neal.

A total of 5 new cases of Multi-Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MISC) have been reported since last Wednesday’s report, according to LDH.

Omicron is currently the dominant variant in the state, consisting of 90% of all COVID-19 cases, according to health officials. Sokol said 95% of parishes are at the highest COVID-19 risk level.

95% of Louisiana’s 64 parishes are at the highest COVID-19 risk level. (Source: Louisiana Department of Health)

Gov. Edwards was joined by Tier 1 hospital medical directors from across the state, who gave first-hand accounts of what they are seeing. All reported their emergency departments are overwhelmed, and that the vast majority of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

They also implored people not to go to the ER to get tested for COVID-19, in order to help preserve the capacity to provide life-saving care for those in need.

The LDH says emergency department visits related to COVID-19 have more than doubled since last week. As of December 25, 16.7% of emergency department visits were related to COVID-19. During the Delta surge, the peak was 18.7%. The percentage of emergency department visits related to COVID-like-illness has reached an all-time high in the Greater New Orleans area and Northwest Louisiana.

Sokol said one type of monoclonal antibody treatment that effectively works against Omicron is in low supply and that there is not enough to treat COVID-19 patients. Anti-viral COVID-19 pills are also in limited supply.

To learn about vaccination sites near you, call Louisiana’s COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at 855-453-0774. For a list of locations near you, visit https://ldh.la.gov/covidvaccine or text your ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) in English or VACUNA (822862) in Spanish.

To find a COVID-19 test site near you, call 211 or visit ldh.la.gov/covidtesting

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