BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The number of COVID-19 patients in Louisiana’s hospitals continued its steady climb Tuesday, intensifying worries that coronavirus cases from Thanksgiving holiday gatherings will balloon the number further and could overwhelm hospitals.
Louisiana’s health department said 1,280 people in Louisiana were hospitalized because of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, an increase of more than 200 over the last week and more than double the 596 COVID-19 patients hospitalized a month ago.
“The continued uptick (in) hospitalizations is very concerning,” Gov. John Bel Edwards’ spokeswoman Christina Stephens posted on Twitter. “We know how this works and no one wants to see our health care system overrun.”
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients remain below Louisiana’s peak of nearly 2,000 in April during the first of the state’s three coronavirus surges since the pandemic began — but hospitalizations have been steadily and sharply increasing since mid-October.
That prompted Edwards to toughen Louisiana’s coronavirus restrictions on businesses and gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving. As the Democratic governor made the announcement, his chief public health adviser Dr. Joe Kanter warned that the strong uptick in Louisiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations was happening at a rate “that our hospitals simply cannot stand” without running out of the staff needed to treat patients.
In addition to staffing concerns, open intensive care unit beds were dwindling in some regions of the state. Only 12 ICU beds out of 157 remained available Tuesday in the seven-parish Lafayette region, according to the state health department, while 14 of 76 ICU beds were open in southwestern Louisiana.
Edwards hoped issuing tighter rules before Thanksgiving could help persuade his state’s residents to heed calls by him and public health experts to remain masked and distanced from people outside of individual households and to avoid the traditional, packed holiday dinners.
Nearly a week removed from Thanksgiving, the numbers weren’t suggesting people followed that guidance.
Nearly 4,000 new coronavirus cases were confirmed Tuesday by the state health department, and Louisiana’s death toll from COVID-19 grew by another 31 confirmed deaths to 6,194.
Under Edwards’ current rules, restaurants, gyms, salons, casinos, malls and other businesses deemed nonessential must limit their customers to 50% of their occupancy rate. Crowds at churches remain capped at 75% of their capacity. Most bars are limited to takeout, delivery and outside seating only. Crowd sizes at football games are restricted to 25%. Louisiana continues to have a statewide mask mandate.
The rules expire Dec. 23, but Edwards has indicated he expects to renew them into the new year.
“No one should believe we’re going to relax restrictions at that time,” the governor said when he announced the latest rules.
Louisiana’s health department has reported more than 224,000 confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. Nearly 193,000 people are presumed recovered, but that leaves thousands who could have active infections and be spreading the virus.
The number of people who have had COVID-19 is expected to be higher than the confirmed count because some people never have symptoms or never get tested. The health department has reported another 13,000 probable coronavirus cases, detected through antigen tests. Those tests provide quick on-site results and are less expensive to administer than the more widely used molecular tests, but the tests are deemed less accurate.