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Governor Issues New Advisory To Wear A Mask Indoors As Delta Blazes Through Louisiana

Gov. John Bel Edwards at the statehouse in Baton Rouge.
Wallis Watkins
Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the statehouse in Baton Rouge.

Louisiana is now facing the fastest growth in new COVID-19 cases per capita of any state in the U.S., driven by the highly contagious delta variant and the state’s bottom-rung rate of vaccinations.

“Louisiana is undeniably in a fourth wave of COVID,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards in a press conference Friday. “This one is on us. This surge is on us.”

As a result, he announced new public health advisories.

Everyone is now advised to wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status if they can’t keep six feet of distance between themselves and others.

Employers are being encouraged to take extra precautions to limit their employees' exposure to catching the virus.

And all people, even those who are vaccinated, are being advised to get tested for COVID-19 immediately after a known or expected exposure to COVID. An exposure is considered being within six feet of someone positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes.

Louisiana recorded the third-highest single day for new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic on Wednesday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said daily cases as a percentage of the population have grown more than 200 percent in two weeks, hospitalizations have risen by 749 since July 1st, nearly quadrupling, and more than 84 percent of cases are now the delta variant.

Also driving the state's sharply surging cases is the number of unvaccinated people in Louisiana. Only half of adults are at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19. And demand is so low, Louisiana is only ordering 10 percent of the vaccine doses made available by the federal government, Edwards said.

“We’re ordering 10 percent of doses available, and yet we have the highest growth rate of cases in the country. That has to change. And it has to change now,” Edwards said.

He warned other measures could come. “I am not taking anything off the table, because we are at the beginning of the fourth surge,” Edwards said.

Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer, said the delta variant, Louisiana’s low vaccination rate and the fact that people are spending time indoors during the summer are creating a “perfect storm” for the new surge.

The delta variant is believed to cause people to shed 100 to 1000 times more virus than previous strains of the coronavirus.

Cases are increasing in every area of the state. No parish in the state is considered at a low risk of community transmission and one-third are seeing the percentage of positive tests over 10 percent — a threshold Kanter called “extremely alarming.”

He said people should avoid crowds, particularly people at risk for more complications and those who are older.

“We are clearly in what is still the upswing of now our fourth surge of COVID-19,” Kanter said. “And we have not really seen any signs yet that it is slowing.”

About 93 percent of all COVID-19 cases reported to the state are among unvaccinated people, proof that the vaccines remain highly effective against the delta variant, Kanter said. Nine in ten people hospitalized are not fully vaccinated, he added.

Older people remain most at risk among the vaccinated. Of those who are vaccinated and have died of COVID-19 in Louisiana, the median age is 73.

But the vast majority of “breakthrough” cases are mild or asymptomatic, Kanter said.

Edwards said he was pleading with people to get vaccinated now, noting that anyone vaccinated today will still likely need to wait more than a month before they’re considered fully vaccinated.

“I’m asking you, if you had previously decided to wait, if you had previously decided you just weren’t going to get it, you did that on faulty information, but you also did it without information of what’s happening today,” Edwards said. “Make the decision to be vaccinated.”

He said people waiting for the vaccines to receive full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval are making the wrong decision because we don’t know when that approval may come and “we have no time to wait.”

More than 339 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across the U.S.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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