A drop in number of hospitalizations but total cases still on the rise

The latest data from the Louisiana Department of Health showed a drop in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide for the second consecutive day Thursday, the first time that has happened in more than five weeks.

According to the Friday update, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state dropped to 2,999 Thursday, down 14 from Wednesday’s total of 3,013. The state also reported 470 patients on ventilators as of Thursday, a decrease of six from Wednesday’s total. Ventilator use in the state peaked on April 4, 2020, with 571 patients on the machines.

Those decreases in hospitalizations come in the third week of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reinstated mask mandate, which took effect on Aug. 2.

In Region 4, which encompasses the Acadiana area, hospitalizations rose by three Thursday, to 409, but the region’s ventilator cases dropped by three, to 64.

Despite a respite from the continual rise of hospitalizations, the state’s vaccination rate remains among the lowest nationwide. Currently, the state is tied with West Virginia for sixth-worst vaccination rate, at 39.4 percent. As far as the percent population which has had at least a single dose goes, Louisiana owns seventh-worst outright at 47.7 percent.

Those numbers are buoyed thanks to a higher vaccination rate, 51.4 percent, in Region 1, which encompasses Jefferson and Orleans parishes. In fact, only Regions 1 and 2 (which takes in Baton Rouge) are above the state average in completed vaccinations. The other seven regions are all below the state average. Iberia Parish is less than one third vaccinated, at 32.3 percent. St. Martin and St. Mary parishes are marginally better, at 32.4 percent, but still under a third vaccinated.

A surprising report from the American Association of Retired Persons showed that the rate was almost as low among workers in long-term care facilities. Although 56.7 percent of nursing home workers are fully vaccinated, in Louisiana that percentage is at just 41 percent — the lowest staff vaccination rate of any state or territory.

In an effort to fix that, the Biden administration revealed a plan this week to require nursing home workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 lest their employers risk losing billions of federal health care dollars in the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Additionally, news that the Centers for Disease Control is expected to give the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine full approval Monday, rather than the current emergency authorization for use, will bump vaccination numbers up.

That lack of vaccinations shows in the hospitalization numbers across the southern portion of the state. Region 4’s ICU bed occupancy was at 168 Thursday, with six beds available across the seven-parish area. That put the percentage of occupied ICU beds at 96.6 percent.

In Region 3, which stretches from St. Mary Parish east to Lafourche and north to St. Charles, 93 of 100 ICU beds were occupied as of Thursday. To the west, where Region 5 encompasses the area from Allen, Jefferson Davis and Cameron parishes to the Texas-Louisiana state line, only two of 83 reported ICU beds were available.

The overall hospital bed occupancy in Region 4 is still high, but not as dire as the ICU occupancy. As of Thursday, the occupancy rate remained above 80 percent, rising to 82.2 percent with only 316 of 1,717 beds available.

Another issue raised this week is the growing number of cases among younger adults and children, who are vaccinated at a far lower rate than older residents. According to data from Ochsner Health, 150 people under 50 have died from the coronavirus in August alone. By comparison, in the first six months of 2021 only 167 patients under the age of 50 died from COVID-19.

Almost 6,000 children have tested positive for COVID this week in Louisiana. Ochsner is currently caring for 16 pediatric COVID patients. The organization has admitted 26 pediatric patients total in August, up from only seven in July.

According to an Ochsner Health System spokeswoman, the healthcare provider also cancelled 1,163 surgeries last week due to the influx of COVID-19 patients. It also turned down transfer requests from 90 facilities across several states.

In Lafayette, Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center is declining 70 percent of transfer requests.

Statewide, 89 percent of new infections and 80 percent of deaths between Aug. 4 and Aug. 11 and 91 percent of the state’s current hospitalizations were among unvaccinated patients.

Iberia Parish had logged 10,687 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, an increase of 222 since Thursday. The parish COVID-19 death toll rose by two, to 184. In St. Martin Parish, 32 new cases were identified, bringing the total there to 7,352. The number of deaths rose by one, to 128.

In St. Mary Parish, new cases rose to 7,498, an increase of 81, with deaths rising by one, to 171.

The seven-day test positivity rates released Wednesday showed the Teche Area numbers dropping slightly but remaining high. In Iberia Parish, the seven-day positivity rate dropped from 24.6 percent on Aug. 4 to 24.3 percent on Aug. 11, which is slightly more than a 1 percent decrease. In St. Martin Parish, the seven-day average positivity dropped two-thirds of a point over the same period, from 22.6 to 22 percent. St. Mary Parish saw a 10.1 percent decrease, from 17.8 percent to 16 percent.

All three parishes are well beyond the state average, which was at 15.5 percent as of Aug. 11, a decrease from 16.1 percent on Aug. 4. Across Region 4, which encompasses the Acadiana parishes, the overall seven-day positivity rate was down slightly, from 18.7 percent on Aug. 4 to 18.3 percent on Aug. 11.

According to Friday’s LDH update, the number of COVID-19 cases reported rose by 5,922, to 649,915. The state reported 67 new deaths.

Dwayne Fatherree is the community editor for The Daily Iberian. He can be reached at dwayne.fatherree@daily-iberian.com.

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