By KEVIN McGILL Associated Press
Eds: UPDATES: This story has been updated with details from an Ochsner news conference and on the number of hospitals affected by the mandate. With AP Photos.; With AP Photos.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s largest hospital system, Ochsner Health, said Tuesday that it is requiring all of its employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 29.
The announcement came a day after the Pfizer vaccine received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration; and as the state health department announced 3,814 new confirmed or probable cases statewide.
There were also 139 confirmed or “probable” virus-related deaths reported Tuesday. Hospitalizations, which had been declining after setting records for much of August, ticked up again in Tuesday’s report, increasing by 18 to 2,856.
“This policy is the right thing to do to protect our employees, their families, and our patients,” Ochsner CEO Warner Thomas said in a news release about the vaccine mandate.
At a later briefing Ochsner officials continued to describe conditions at system hospitals as “critical.” Thomas told reporters that Ochsner’s COVID-19 patient census, overall, had decreased slightly to 979 from more than 1,000 last week. “But we’re seeing more of a flattening and a plateau,” Thomas said. “Not a continued decline in a significant fashion.” That means continued stresses on staff and continued delays in non-emergency surgeries and procedures. Thomas said more than 5,000 surgeries and procedures have been postponed in the system since the last week of July because a short staff has to be dedicated to the high number of COVID-19 patients.
“We are searching across the country to bring more nurses in and we simply cannot find them,” Thomas said.
System officials said 69% of its employees are already vaccinated.
Ochsner owns, operates or is affiliated with 40 hospitals. A spokesperson said the vaccine mandate applies to 26 hospitals and scores of urgent cares and other health centers around the state. Other hospitals, notably those affiliated with Ochsner but owned and operated by local governments, will set their own policies.
Also Tuesday, Louisiana State University released its timeline for requiring students to get the coronavirus vaccine.
Students will have until Sept. 10 to submit proof of their first shot or file paperwork to opt out of the vaccination requirement. Under Louisiana law, students can provide a doctor’s note citing a medical condition that precludes getting the vaccine or a “written dissent” form objecting to the shot.
LSU students will have until Oct. 15 to submit proof of full vaccination, if they haven’t filed the exemption paperwork.
The university also said Tuesday that getting into a football game this fall will require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative coronavirus test.
LSU’s announcement said the university will require all Tiger Stadium guests 12 years and older to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to entry. The policy will be in effect for LSU’s home opener against McNeese St on Sept. 11.
Governor John Bel Edwards, LSU President William F. Tate IV, LSU’s Board of Supervisors, the Tiger Athletic Foundation and Athletic Director Scott Woodward all support the decision, the announcement said.
The FDA previously had cleared the Pfizer shots for use on an emergency basis. Pfizer is the first vaccine to get full FDA approval.