With more than 1,000 COVID patients hospitalized and Louisiana again leading the nation in rate of infections, Gov. John Bel Edwards recommended Friday everyone return to mask-wearing indoors and that those not vaccinated to quickly get the shots and help slow the spread of the deadly virus.
Starting Monday state workers will have to wear masks in the office and anyone visiting a state building controlled by the governor, which is most of them, also will have to wear masks.
Louisiana has the highest growth rate in COVID cases per capita in the nation, with the statewide average of daily cases per 100,000 residents increasing 208% over the last two weeks, Edwards said, adding that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring Louisiana to see if CDC guidance needs adjusting nationwide.
Louisiana health officials are unsure how long this fourth surge in COVID infections, hospitalizations and death will last. Edwards warned of more stringent action if the situation worsens.
"I hope we don't have to go back and take the same types of actions we've taken previously. But I don't commit that we won't," Edwards told reporters in an hour-long press conference.
For weeks, Louisiana public-health experts, epidemiologists and prominent political leaders have warned with increasing urgency that the state…
How things go over the next few weeks and what the CDC recommends will dictate what happens in Louisiana public schools, from kindergarten through universities.
"We are going to continue to see what the CDC does. But whether I impose a statewide mandate or whether this is handled by the school districts, I can assure you that the recommendations will not change between now and when school starts," Edwards said, "and that is individuals indoors, unvaccinated, wear a mask. It really is going to be that simple."
State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said Friday the schools set their face mask policy based on CDC guidelines and officials have no plans to revisit the issue. "Ultimately, at this point, the exact set of mitigation efforts employed remains a local decision," Brumley said in a text message.
"With the delta variant (of COVID), which is obviously more transmittable, more virulent; and because of our low vaccination rate; because of the summer season (when hot weather forces people inside); with school about to start, both K through 12 and higher education, this really is the perfect storm and conditions are right for catastrophic outcomes for far too many individuals," Edwards said.
Louisiana is giving away $2.3 million in prizes to residents who are vaccinated against COVID-10.
The Louisiana Department of Health is suggesting – not mandating – that people wear their masks indoors when at least six feet of distancing is not physically possible and to stay out of crowds. Department officials also ask that everyone who had been exposed to COVID through colleagues, family members and others get tested, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not.
Shortly before the bulk of state workers headed home for the weekend, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne emailed cabinet secretaries, who run the executive branch agencies, and their human resources directors that he would provide guidance on work requirements Tuesday. In the meantime, starting Monday, all state employees, not reporting to an agency run by an official elected statewide, "are required to wear face coverings at all times while at work. This applies not only to employees, but also to those visiting or performing contract work in state buildings."
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Louisiana increased to 1,008 on Friday afternoon – rising at its fastest clip since the earliest days of the pandemic. The vast majority of those patients – 90% – are unvaccinated, said Dr. Joe Kanter, the state health officer.
Nine more Louisiana residents died overnight, pushing the COVID death toll from confirmed cases to 9,842 since the pandemic began. Among the 59 deaths reported over the last seven days, 91% were unvaccinated, Kanter said.
Editor’s Note: Due to changes in the importance of various metrics used to track the pandemic, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate r…
“The overwhelming majority of those getting sick, going into the hospital and dying from COVID today are unvaccinated,” Edwards said.
The latest surge in cases is fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, a strain of COVID-19 that first emerged in India and now accounts for at least 83 percent of cases nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The viral load caused by the delta variant is up to 1,000-times higher than the original strain of COVID-19, making it easier to transmit and causing more serious cases in younger patients, Kanter said.
Cases of the virus are rising nationwide, but the outbreak has been particularly dire in Louisiana, where nearly two-thirds of the population remains unvaccinated. The White House recently labeled Louisiana a “state of concern” given how quickly the virus is spreading.
Hospitalizations from COVID-19 in Louisiana rose to 844 patients Wednesday afternoon, the highest levels since mid-February, according to a no…
Edwards pleaded with the public to take the vaccine, which is free and available at nearly 1,400 locations statewide. Already, there is some glimmer of hope: the number of people choosing to get vaccinated recently jumped from around 2,000 a day to 5,000 a day, Edwards said.
“It pains me to say this, but this surge is on us. How bad it gets, how long it stays bad, how many people ultimately die – on us,” Edwards said. “We can do better. It’s entirely within our control.”
The Health Department recommendation to get tested upon exposure to COVID, regardless of vaccine status, is a departure from the CDC, which currently advises those who are vaccinated to seek testing only if they begin experiencing symptoms. Edwards said the severity of Louisiana’s outbreak necessitates a tailored approach, adding that the CDC is keeping tabs on the state’s data to help craft its national recommendations.
“We are at the tip of the spear in this surge,” Edwards said.
Louisiana, like the rest of the nation, is facing a shortage of nurses. Many of those nurses left the profession and transferred to other roles after experiencing the trauma of the pandemic’s frontlines, Kanter said. There are currently 6,000 open nursing positions in the state, Edwards noted.
The delta variant is not last year’s virus. We’re dealing with a different beast. I have witnessed the death, sadness and long-term impacts of…
State agency leaders spent much of Friday informing employees "the mask mandate is back" as well as teleworking. The state Office of Technological Services, for instance, emailed its employees that need to steel themselves for the possibility of coming to the office for two days week and otherwise work from home.
State government agencies had worked from home during the height of the pandemic in 2020. Those restrictions relaxed as the pandemic did.
The 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.
o If positive, they should isolate immediately.
o If negative, they should retest again between five and seven days post-exposure.
o If they develop symptoms of COVID-19 at any point they should test and immediately isolate pending the results.
Will Sentell of the Capitol news bureau contributed to this report
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