WATCH: Gov. Edwards and health officials strongly urge masking, vaccinations in Thursday virtual briefing

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – In a virtual briefing on Thursday, Governor John Bel Edwards and health officials strongly urged people to wear masks indoors, get vaccinated and avoid large gatherings as Omicron surges.

Gov. Edwards asks people to take this surge seriously. While he is not yet bringing back the mask mandate across the state, he said it is not off the table if hospitals near capacity.

“I’m very sorry that we’re back here,” said Gov. Edwards. “Unfortunately, we don’t get a vote in what this virus does, but we do get a choice on how we respond. As we close out the year, I strongly encourage you to join me in modifying your plans this New Year’s Eve and not gathering with people outside of your immediate household. This is unfortunately necessary as we work hard to mitigate the impact of this fifth Omicron-fueled surge. What gives me hope as we enter the new year is that more people in Louisiana are changing their minds and choosing to go sleeves up and get the COVID-19 vaccine. So far this month, already 71,797 people have received their first dose.”

According to the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), 762 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 on Dec. 30, a 268% increase. LDH said the majority of hospitalized individuals are not fully vaccinated.

Edwards said hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. Hospitals are asking people not to visit if they’re in need of a test or just have mild symptoms.

Omicron is currently the dominant variant in the state, consisting of 90% of all COVID-19 cases, according to health officials.

Edwards asked people to get their booster shots and to avoid large gatherings on New Year’s Eve.

The governor said students will return to school during this surge that is shaping to be unlike the ones the state has seen before. He recommends schools require masking and suspend extracurricular activities and social gatherings. LDH also asks students to get tested for COVID before they return to the classroom.

State Epidemiologist Theresa Sokol says 95% of parishes are at the highest COVID-19 risk level.

Courtesy of LDH

Sokol discussed the low supply of a type of monoclonal antibody treatment that effectively works against Omicron. The federal government is halting the use of two treatments since they are not effective against Omicron. That leaves just one kind of monoclonal antibody treatment. Sokol said there is not enough to treat all COVID-19 patients. Anti-viral COVID-19 pills are also in limited supply and are still in the process of being shipped to the state.

Sokol strongly encourages people to get vaccinated or boosters to protect against severe illness, hospitalization and death due to Omicron. Masking indoors and outdoors when social distancing is not possible is also highly encouraged.

Find a COVID-19 testing site by visiting ldh.la.gov/covidtesting. Anyone in need of vaccination can visit ldh.la.gov/covidvaccine.

LDH recommends the following precautions as students return to school campuses:

  • Mask universally indoors and outside when social distancing is not possible.
  • Stay at least 6 feet apart during mealtimes when masking is not possible.
  • Suspend extracurricular activities until statewide incidence is below 200 infections per 100,000 people.
  • Avoid holding social gatherings (e.g., school dances or pep rallies) until statewide incidence is below 200 infections per 100,000 people.
  • Get vaccinated and boosted when eligible.
  • Children should be tested prior to return to school.

OLOL’s Dr. Catherine O’Neal says hospitals are seeing the fastest increase of COVID-19 cases in children. She is also urging people to get vaccinated and boosters, as well as children who are eligible.

“It is a community effort to end the pandemic,” said Dr. O’Neal.

COVID-19 Testing in Louisiana

Gov. Edwards and LDH officials say COVID-19 testing in the state, much like the rest of the country, is in short supply. Here’s what Louisianans need to know about testing, according to state officials:

  • PCR tests are free, widely available and are more sensitive than antigen tests when it comes to detecting Omicron. Results for PCR tests are available within approximately 24 to 48 hours in most cases.
  • It is important to remember that tests are a snapshot in time, and a negative test does not mean you will not test positive later if you were exposed to the virus.
  • LDH continues to work to make testing more accessible, and is continuing to add sites across Louisiana ahead of the New Year holiday,
  • Do not visit an emergency room to obtain a test. Emergency rooms are for the seriously ill or someone needing immediate medical attention.

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