As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in Louisiana thanks to a more transmissible variant, leaders are now recommending that all people — both vaccinated and unvaccinated — mask up indoors when social distancing is not possible.
The mask recommendation is one of multiple bits of advice leaders offered during a press conference Friday detailing the state’s precarious situation amid a fourth surge of COVID-19.
“We are in a very dangerous surge right now,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, state health officer. “To ensure their own safety, people in Louisiana should take precautions immediately. Masking and testing will limit death and suffering until we make it through this.”
The new recommendations from LDH came after the White House designated Louisiana “state of concern” due to its rapid case growth and insufficient vaccination rate.
New COVID-19 cases continued to surge in Louisiana this week to levels not seen in months. On Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Health confirmed 3,264 new cases — the most in one day since Jan. 12, when the state was in the midst of its winter surge — followed by at least 2,000 new cases each of the next two days.
On Friday, COVID-19 hospitalizations rose above 1,000 for the first time since early February. At 1,008 statewide, hospitalizations are at their highest point since Feb. 10, just after the winter surge.
Since falling to 259 on July 2, hospitalizations have risen by 749, or just over 34 per day.
In the most recent data Kanter presented, all nine regions are showing increases in COVID-like illness, new cases, and hospitalizations. Meanwhile, the state continues to lag the rest of the country in vaccination rate.
Along with the mask recommendation, leaders have updated guidance on masking, testing for vaccinated people, and workplace accommodations, alongside increasing vaccinations
Additional measures may be announced later if the situation worsens.
Edwards said Louisiana is in front of the current COVID-19 surge, “due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant among the unvaccinated in our state.” According to Edwards, Louisiana leads the nation in case growth, with 47 cases per capita
“This should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched our case counts and hospitalizations continue to climb,” Edward said in a statement, “and it necessitates additional guidance for how all people should stay safe in Louisiana right now.”
Part of being safe, Edwards said, includes wearing masks indoors when unable to maintain social distance, testing after suspected exposure even if vaccinated and, if possible, working remotely from home to limit exposure to groups.
The governor also urged people to use “the best tool” to fight the surge: the COVID-19 vaccines. He noted that the weekly vaccination rate has bumped up in recent weeks.
“We need even more people in our state to go sleeves up and take the COVID-19 vaccine. Increased vaccinations, when coupled with more masking, testing and distance, can get us out of the fourth surge, but only if people take action quickly.”
In response to the current surge in the state and across the nation, the Louisiana Department of Health is recommending additional layers of protection for all residents, regardless of vaccination status. This updated guidance includes:
-- All people – vaccinated and unvaccinated – should wear face masks while indoors if six feet of physical distance cannot be maintained.
All businesses should review their operations to accommodate employees in a way that reduces unnecessary contact to avoid the spread of COVID in the workplace.
-- All people should take a COVID test immediately after a known or suspected exposure to COVID-19. If positive, they should isolate immediately. If negative, they should retest again between five and seven days post-exposure. If they develop symptoms of COVID-19 at any point they should test and immediately isolate pending the results.
This new guidance will remain in place at least until the fourth surge is over. Leaders said additional guidance and mitigation measures may be put in place “if and when necessary to slow the spread of the more contagious and virulent Delta variant and preserve hospital capacity.”
The following guidance from LDH and the CDC has not yet changed:
-- At this time, CDC advises that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine following an exposure to COVID-19, and LDH is not yet altering this guidance.
-- Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, even those who are fully vaccinated or without a known exposure, should get tested.
-- Anyone who tests positive should immediately isolate. Isolation (for those who test positive for COVID-19) typically consists of: If symptomatic, at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared, symptoms are improving, and at least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication; if asymptomatic but with a positive test, 10 days from the time the test sample was collected.
Local leaders may implement mitigation measures that are more comprehensive that the current state guidelines should they feel this is best for their communities. In addition, local school boards currently set masking and mitigation policies for their schools.