Louisiana health officials are warning of another surge of the novel coronavirus — particularly among unvaccinated people — as new cases, hospitalizations, and percent positivity have seen notable increases in recent weeks.
All this comes while the Delta variant, believed to be more contagious than any other, has become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the country, accounting for more than half of all circulation nationwide.
In Louisiana, half of the state’s 64 parishes are considered “high” or “highest” risk of community spread, the top two levels. Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalizations are at their highest point (454) since mid-March.
During the past week, officials said there have been 35 new outbreaks and 200 new outbreak-associated cases identified. This represents a 169-percent increase in the number of reported outbreaks and a 96-percent increase in the number of outbreak-associated cases compared to the previous week, officials said.
The settings with the greatest outbreak increases included camps, child day cares, religious services and restaurants.
In addition to the circulation of the Delta variant, insufficient masking and distancing, especially among unvaccinated individuals, are also contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in these settings, officials said.
If the current trend continues, this would be the fourth COVID-19 surge the state has faced, following spikes in March/April 2020, summer 2020, and December/January 2021.
“The data are very clear,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana’s state health officer, in a statement. “COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people in Louisiana are surging. COVID-19 hospitalizations, percent positivity and COVID-19 outbreaks are all on the rise.
“All people in Louisiana, especially those who are not yet vaccinated, should know they are now at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to the more transmissible Delta variant, and they should consider their personal risk and their family’s risk.”
In a statement released Tuesday, officials said that 94 percent of the 19,200 new COVID-19 cases reported in Louisiana were among individuals who were not fully vaccinated.
Overall, COVID-19 indicators continue to worsen, according to figures provided by the Louisiana Department of Health, which include:
-- The number of new cases diagnosed each day has been increasing for the past 28 days and is now increasing in all nine regions of the state.
-- The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout Louisiana has been increasing for the past 12 days, with nearly 200 additional hospitalized patients added during that time, as of Tuesday’s reporting.
-- The statewide average daily number of cases per 100,000 residents has increased 167 percent over the past 14 days.
-- Statewide percent positivity of new COVID-19 tests conducted is now 6.3 percent and has been increasing for the past four weeks.
The Department of Health released the following guidance for individuals in Louisiana:
-- If you are not yet fully vaccinated, you should mask and distance yourself in public settings and particularly indoors, for your safety and for the safety of those around you.
-- If you are fully vaccinated you have very good, but not absolute protection. Your risk, while relatively small, will increase as the amount of COVID-19 circulating in your community increases. Masking and distancing, particularly when indoors, will increase your safety should you desire extra protection.
-- If you are at increased risk for complications of COVID-19 by virtue of advanced age or underlying medical condition or have a member of your household family unit who is, LDH strongly recommends you consider masking and distancing when indoors and/or in close proximity to others for added protection.
Kanter and other health leaders have continued to tout the vaccines as the only way to get past the pandemic, but those pleas have not taken hold the way officials would like.
As of the latest data, roughly 1.66 million Louisiana residents have completed a vaccine series while around 1.81 million have at least started one, accounting for roughly 36.2 percent and 39.5 percent of the state, respectively.
Both percentages trail the national average of 48.1 percent of people who have completed a vaccine series and 55.6 percent of people who have at least started one, according to figures from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The lagging vaccination rates have persisted even after the state announced the “Shot at a Million” lottery to spur more vaccinations. Along with the $1 million check, the state will offer a total of 14 monetary awards — including cash giveaways and scholarships — to people who have at least initiated a vaccine series and registered.
All told, the state will dole out $2.3 million, with funding coming from federal COVID outreach dollars.