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ERs 'slammed', COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rise quickly as omicron variant spreads in Louisiana

A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising sharply in Louisiana as the omicron variant surges in the state, spurring renewed calls for people to wear masks indoors and get vaccinated.

The Louisiana Department of Health reported 514 people in hospitals on Tuesday, an uptick from Sunday’s count of 449. A little under a quarter of all tests reported between Monday and Tuesday were positive.

Hospitalizations doubled in the week over Christmas, the health department announced on Sunday, with unvaccinated people accounting for 80% of all those hospitalized.

At Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, COVID-19 patients rose from 15 to 35 in a week.

The New Orleans Health Department said emergency rooms in the city were “being slammed with people wanting COVID tests” on Tuesday, and asked people to stay away unless they’re severely ill or have an immediate emergency.

“If you recently came into contact with someone with COVID and have little to no symptoms, keep isolated from others to avoid possible spread and monitor your symptoms until you can find a testing site or an available physician,” the health department advised.

There have been widespread reports of COVID-19 testing shortages across Louisiana amid the early surge of the omicron variant.

The city has opened two sites for testing and vaccinations: the Mahalia Jackson parking lot in Armstrong Park and UNO Lakefront Arena.

The omicron-fueled spike in hospitalizations mirrors the early trajectory of the summer delta surge, which peaked with over 3,000 people hospitalized and saw spikes in COVID-19 deaths in children, pregnant women and their fetuses.

Testing volume in the state also peaked during the delta surge and has since declined, and the Louisiana Department of Health warned its data is incomplete because it doesn’t include the results of at-home COVID-19 tests.

The health department is again urging everyone 5 years of age and older to get vaccinated and, if eligible, a booster shot.

It’s also recommending wearing your mask indoors and outdoors, working remotely, and limiting exposure to people outside your household.

The omicron variant is even more contagious than the delta variant, and is spurring a rise in COVID-19 cases among those who are vaccinated.

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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