BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Some Louisiana health facilities are suspending nonemergency surgeries that might require hospital admissions as they grapple with a steadily increasing influx of COVID-19 patients amid the state’s latest spike in cases.
Baton Rouge-based Our Lady of the Lake said Monday it will pause scheduling new, nonurgent surgeries that require an inpatient bed for at least three weeks after admitting 25 new COVID-19 patients within 24 hours. In New Orleans, the six-hospital LCMC system announced new visitor restrictions, effective Monday, and said it, too, was suspending non-essential surgeries and procedures that might require hospital admission or overnight stays. Monday’s announcement on the LCMC website said the suspension would be effective Thursday.
Louisiana has one of the lowest coronavirus vaccination rates in the nation, worsening this latest surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.
Statewide, the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus illness reached 1,221 on Monday, according to state health department data. That’s more than double the hospitalization number only 10 days ago. And medical leaders say the COVID-19 patients they’re seeing are largely unvaccinated.
Our Lady of the Lake — which runs a regional medical center, children’s hospital and smaller hospital in the Baton Rouge area — said it has 112 of those COVID-19 patients in its facilities, 40% of those in intensive care.
“Our inpatient facilities remain at capacity,” Stephanie Manson, chief operating officer at Our Lady of the Lake, said in a statement. “We made this decision to make additional beds and staff available. Previously scheduled procedures are proceeding as scheduled. We continue to schedule outpatient and new urgent surgical procedures.”
Health officials warn that delaying procedures such as cancer treatments, knee surgeries and other inpatient operations considered nonemergency could worsen health conditions over time.
But Louisiana is seeing one of the nation’s worst coronavirus surges per capita. More than 6,200 new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed with the state since Friday, and more than 15,000 new cases over the past week.
Republican U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, who represents southwest and south central Louisiana, announced Sunday night that he, his wife and his son have contracted COVID-19. The congressman, who has criticized mask mandates and other coronavirus rules, said he and his wife also were infected last year. Higgins has refused to say whether he’s been vaccinated against the virus.
Louisiana has struggled to reach the immunization rates of other states, with only about 37% of its residents fully vaccinated and 41% starting the vaccination process. Only four states have lower vaccination rates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public health adviser, said Louisiana is seeing a slight uptick in people’s interest in the shots since the delta variant intensified across the state. Still, that won’t be enough to combat the latest surge in the short-term — because it takes weeks to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Baton Rouge General Medical Center said it has 71 COVID-19 patients in its hospital, calling this summer’s spike in coronavirus illness cases more “drastic” compared to a similar surge last July. Hospitalizations are larger among younger age groups this year, according to the hospital.
Large percentages of Louisiana residents 60 and older have gotten vaccinated, while far fewer people in younger age groups have done so.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday urged everyone to wear masks indoors if they can’t stay distanced from others, even if they’ve been vaccinated. But the Democratic governor didn’t return to a statewide mandate.
The Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles started requiring masks for all of its locations Monday, after seeing some of its offices forced to close intermittently in recent months because of COVID-19 outbreaks.