Louisiana’s current spike in new cases of the novel coronavirus is “more even” than the state’s initial outbreak back in March and April, when one or two regions were fueling the virus’ early spread.
Now, rapid case growth is being felt across the entire state, particularly among young people this time, and officials are starting to see numbers “that rival” the virus’ peak in Louisiana in early April.
“We have a statewide epidemic,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s no longer one or two regions out of the nine driving the case growth and hospitalizations.”
Speaking to reporters the same day Louisiana surpassed 70,000 total cases to date, Edwards discussed his concerns over the recent surge in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, which is no longer confined to the New Orleans area as was the case back in the spring.
He also impressed upon the public the need to take serious mitigation measures such as mask wearing, maintaining social distance, avoiding large crowds, and practicing good hygiene.
The governor said the state is now at three weeks of “going in the wrong direction” regarding new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, which have both been on an upward trajectory since mid-June — or a few weeks after the Memorial Day holiday, Edwards pointed out.
In regards to hospitalizations, Edwards said the state has lost all the gains it made in June and is now nearly double the number it had on June 13 (542).
“We know now that Memorial Day really was a point in time at which our numbers stopped getting better and started getting worse,” he said. “I pray and hope that does not happen with activity surrounding the Fourth of July.”
This week, the state exceeded 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time since May 19. Hospitalizations now stand at 1,022 as of Wednesday, and since June 14, they’ve gone up by 480 — roughly 19 a day.
Additionally, ventilator usage surpassed 100 this week for the first time since May 28. Ventilator usage reached a peak of 571 in early April but had steadily dwindled to as low as 67 on June 9 before slowly rising to 105 statewide as of Wednesday.
When asked if he’s considered imposing more restrictions to get the numbers back under control, Edwards iterated he “remains focused on getting more compliance with existing measures.”
According to Edwards, the State Fire Marshal’s Office has conducted around 3,100 “site visits” over the last 10 days to see if businesses are following the mandates in place, which require mask-wearing by employees dealing directly with the public, limits capacity to 50 percent of most businesses, and requires social distancing when possible, among other restrictions.
He said the state is “nowhere near” overwhelming its capacity to deliver healthcare — a real fear in the virus’ initial outbreak in March and April — but added that “we will get there” if the state doesn’t flatten the curve like it did three months ago.
“We will do whatever is necessary to make sure that we don’t lose the capacity in our hospitals to deliver life-saving care,” he said. “We’re just not gonna get to that point. We’re nowhere near that today, but clearly we’re on a trajectory that if at some point we don’t flatten that curve again, we will get there.”
Health officials confirmed more than 1,800 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to date to 70,151. That’s the ninth time since June 23 that the state has confirmed at least 1,000 new cases in a single day, including the fourth time the state has reported at least 1,800 since July 1.
Young people continue to experience the most rapid case growth of any of the age groups, with people under 29 accounting for about one-third of all new cases over the last week and a half, according to Dr. Alex Billioux of the Office of Public Health.
People ages 18-29 account for 14,949 of the total number of cases to date, the most of any age group. And while young people are mostly spared from the fatal consequences of the disease — only 14 COVID-19 related deaths among people under 30 years of age — they can spread it to the most vulnerable populations, which include people over 60 and those with underlying health conditions.
“The number of younger people getting the disease produces a greater risk for everyone else,” Billioux said.