By MELINDA DESLATTE | Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s latest coronavirus spike pushed the state’s confirmed cases above 200,000 Wednesday, as the state grapples with a third virus surge since the pandemic began.
The Louisiana Department of Health said it had confirmed that 200,982 people living in the state have tested positive for COVID-19 since Louisiana reported its first cases in early March. At least 5,939 residents have died from the virus, according to the health department.
Nearly 186,000 people are presumed recovered, but that leaves thousands who could have active infections and be spreading the virus.
“The public health emergency is more real today than it ever has been,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday on his monthly radio call-in show.
He particularly urged caution for the upcoming holidays: “Quite frankly, Thanksgiving and Christmas this year shouldn’t look like previous years. If they do around the households of Louisiana, far too many people are going to get sick, far too many people are going to go to the hospital and, yes, too many additional people are going to die. We need to find new ways to celebrate.”
More than 11,000 additional people in Louisiana have tested positive over the last week, prompting new rounds of worry from Edwards and public health officials that the latest swell of cases could threaten Louisiana’s ability to deliver health services. Hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients yet, but Edwards cautioned the current trajectory raises that risk.
The Democratic governor said while vaccine news appears to be promising, people face months or longer before such an immunization would be widely available and should continue to wear masks, stay distanced from people outside their households and remain home when sick.
“We have to continue to do the things that we know work to slow the transmission,” Edwards said.
On his radio show, he was joined by Dr. Martha Whyte, Louisiana’s regional public health director for northwestern parishes, and her husband Bill, a doctor who was hospitalized and on a ventilator earlier this year with COVID-19.
“I feel like a lot of people feel like COVID is a very mild illness and if you’re healthy it’s not going to affect you, and you’ll be asymptomatic even and do fine … I experienced just the exact opposite with my very healthy, ex-special forces husband, who almost died from COVID many times over,” Martha Whyte said.
Louisiana had two prior surges of the coronavirus, the first outbreak in March and April centered in the New Orleans region and a swell in June and July that was statewide. All regions of the state are seeing case spikes this month.
On Wednesday, 886 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, according to the health department, far below the peak of nearly 2,000 in April. But Edwards noted that’s 200 more people hospitalized this week because of the coronavirus than a week ago.
The number of people in Louisiana who have had COVID-19 is expected to be even higher than the confirmed count, because some people never have symptoms and some never get tested. The state health department includes another 8,900 “probable cases” of the coronavirus disease on its daily website update.
The probable tag is being used for cases detected through the increased use of antigen tests, which provide quick onsite results and are less expensive to administer than the more widely used molecular tests. But antigen tests are deemed less accurate.