By David Jacobs | The Center Square
Louisiana is not seeing another COVID-19 surge akin to what other states are experiencing, but the trends statewide are pointed in the wrong direction, officials said Friday.
“We as a state have a window of opportunity right now,” Dr. Joe Kanter with the Louisiana Department of Health said. “That window is closing as we speak.”
There were 692 COVID-19 patients in Louisiana hospitals Friday, the most since early September, state officials reported. Case growth, the number of people reporting COVID-19-like symptoms, and the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive are all on the rise.
Kanter said health care providers in every region of the state still are able to handle the number of patients, though some hospitals are running low on intensive care beds.
Officials also reported 24 new deaths of COVID-19 patients, bringing the total to 6,121 since the pandemic began.
Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents to maintain the habits that helped to mitigate previous waves of coronavirus infections, including wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and maintaining distance from people who are not part of your household as much as possible. He said he was hoping for more buy-in from community leaders, including local elected officials, so that reimposing more stringent restrictions isn’t necessary to save lives.
“Reasonable people can disagree about where to strike that balance [between commerce and public health],” Edwards said. But the two extremes – a total lockdown, or a total lack of mitigation restrictions – are not “reasonable,” he said.
Most of the Republican members of the state House of Representatives have signed a petition that temporarily would lift the anti-COVID-19 mandates. A state judge on Thursday declared the petition unconstitutional, though an appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court is expected.
In light of the “confusion” Edwards said the petition has caused, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control issued a statement Friday “reaffirming” that compliance enforcement with the mitigation mandates continues. To date, more than 14,000 compliance inspections have been conducted on more than 25,000 businesses, and 1,700 of those inspections have found violations, the Fire Marshal’s Office says. Generally, regulators have focused on helping businesses get into compliance rather than punishment.
State health officials on Friday began including the results of antigen tests into their public reports, which are quicker and cheaper than the “gold standard” PCR tests but less accurate. Cases discovered through antigen testing will be reported separately as “probable” rather than confirmed cases. Only PCR tests will be used to calculate the percentage of positive tests, officials said.
Almost 202,000 cases of COVID-19, including “confirmed” and “probable,” have been reported in Louisiana since the pandemic began, and about 176,000 of those patients are believed to have recovered.