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The more transmissible Delta variant of the novel coronavirus has become the dominant strain in the country, accounting for more than half of all COVID-19 circulating nationwide, officials said Thursday.

As it has in other states, that has led to a recent spike in new cases, hospitalizations, and the percent positivity of tests in Louisiana — all coming while the state continues to lag behind the national average in vaccinations.

In a joint statement from the Governor’s Office and the Louisiana Department of Health, Gov. John Bel Edwards and State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter urged people to get vaccinated, whether to protect themselves or for a chance to win money or scholarships in the state’s vaccine lottery.

As of the latest data, roughly 1.6 million residents have completed a vaccine series while around 1.8 million have at least started one, accounting for roughly 35 percent and 39 percent of the state, respectively.

Both percentages trail the national average of 47.7 percent of people who have completed a vaccine series and 55.2 percent of people who have at least started one, according to figures from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Aside from protecting themselves against COVID-19, Edwards and Kanter urged people to get vaccinated to have a shot at winning one of 14 monetary prizes to be given away in the coming weeks. The state will dole out $2.3 million over the next month — four $100,000 cash giveaways for adults 18 and older, nine $100,000 scholarships for children 12-17, and a $1 million jackpot for adults 18 and older — in an attempt to spur more vaccinations.

Friday, July 9, is the final day people can get their first vaccine and register if they want to be included in the first “Shot At A Million” drawing. Winners for Louisiana’s vaccine lottery will be announced every Friday between July 16 and Aug. 13.

People are eligible for the lottery if they have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. In Louisiana, people 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, the only one authorized for children. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only authorized for people 18 and older.

As of noon on Thursday, July 8, approximately 603,858 people had entered at That accounts for roughly one-third of all who are eligible.

“We cannot afford to ignore this more dangerous variant,” Edwards said. “Regardless of if you do it because of the concern about the Delta variant or because you want to win a million dollars, now is an excellent time to roll up your sleeves and take the COVID-19 shot.”

This week the more contagious Delta COVID-19 variant became the dominant strain in the country, making up 52 percent of all cases. In Louisiana and its neighboring states, 59 percent of all cases are the Delta variant, which has in turn increased the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and the percent positivity of tests.

In Louisiana, COVID-19 hospitalizations — though not at the alarming levels of spring 2020 or last winter when they reached 2,000 — have risen by more than 90 in the last week.

The current seven-day average of 480 is the most since March 3, the end of the winter surge. The state’s percent positivity, though still much lower than at the height of the pandemic, has risen over the last three weeks.

Kanter said the state saw “a bump” in vaccinations after officials announced the vaccine lottery but added that “more residents need to go sleeves up to protect themselves and their loved ones against this more contagious variant.”

“We are now in the most challenging phase of the vaccine rollout to date, and this is now a game of inches,” Kanter said.

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