By William Patrick, The Center Square
Louisiana is experiencing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
Department officials said 2,619 new cases have been reported out of 12,831 tests conducted since Sunday, marking a 20% positivity rate.
Over the four-day holiday weekend, officials said 12,164 cases were reported to the state.
“Omicron is surging,” the agency said on social media about the latest COVID-19 variant. “Please take precautions as you gather and celebrate with loved ones this holiday season. Wear your mask, get boosted if eligible, work remotely if possible, [and] limit your exposure to those outside your household.”
Studies have shown the omicron variant is highly transmissible and less severe than previous COVID-19 strains, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said more data is needed.
The health department said 449 people in Louisiana were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday. An agency statement did not clarify whether the hospitalizations were due to omicron infections or the previous delta variant.
“A total of 9,545 new COVID-19 cases out of 59,139 new tests have been reported to the state since December 23. The testing data do not include results from at-home tests,” the statement said.
The first known U.S. case of the omicron variant was detected Dec. 1, according to the CDC. The first case in Louisiana was reported Dec. 3. Since then, infections have grown exponentially because of increased transmissibility and breakthrough infections.
“Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur,” the health department said.
Omicron was discovered in South Africa, and a recent study by the country’s largest private insurer, Discovery Health, found two doses of the Pfizer vaccine provided 33% protection against omicron infections.
Amid the Louisiana surge, Gov. John Bel Edwards has extended a state public health emergency order and reinstituted an indoor mask mandate for state government agencies. Employees and visitors are expected to comply.
Edwards said around 50% of Louisianans are vaccinated, while a quarter of eligible residents have received vaccine booster shots.
“While vaccines and booster doses are the strongest tools we have in the fight against COVID, public health experts also agree that masks are an important way to slow the spread of the Omicron variant now,” Edwards said.