New spike in COVID cases largely due to unvaccinated residents, health officials say
BATON ROUGE - With just 36 percent of Louisiana residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the latest surge in cases and hospitalizations statewide is overwhelmingly being seen in the two-thirds who have opted not to get the shot, according to health experts.
"What you're seeing is this is turning into a bit of a preventable disease," said Dr. Ryan Richard, a pulmonary and critical care physician with the Baton Rouge General. "I can't say that strongly enough of what we're seeing right now."
Vaccines have been widely available in Louisiana to those 12 and up for months after a targeted rollout began in December.
Louisiana, though, ranks near the bottom of the states when it comes to vaccination rates. The lethargic uptake, paired with the more contagious and more virulent delta variant, leads to a certain amount of deja vu for capital area hospitals.
"In these states that are having these small surges, or these building surges, right now, tend to be places where people have embraced the vaccines less than other states," Richard said.
In data released Tuesday, the Louisiana Department of Health says 94% of the roughly twenty thousand COVID-19 cases reported since early May, are among those not vaccinated. Over 10 percent of tests included in Wednesday's data came back positive for COVID, with nearly 2,000 new cases statewide.
Doctors at both Baton Rouge General and Our Lady of the Lake say that data figure is made very clear inside their doors.
"By and large, the people in the hospital right now, the people on the ventilator, the people who are coming in, struggling after a week at being at home just clawing for air, they're unvaccinated," Dr. Catherine O'Neal, OLOL's Chief Medical Officer said.
Both Richard and O'Neal say with vaccines easily accessible, the vast majority of the positive cases and subsequent hospitalizations, being seen as of late, are preventable.
"[The vaccine] is the aspirin in your cabinet to keep you from dying of a heart attack," O'Neal said. "It's your mammogram. It's your colonoscopy. It's a vaccine that keeps you alive."
This latest increase, both say, is impacting a different set of the population. Unlike last year, those filling up hospital beds now are not the elderly or those with underlying conditions.
"The people that we're getting right now, [who] are getting sick enough to be in the intensive care unit, tend to be younger people who probably felt they didn't need to be vaccinated because they're not checking these boxes of being older with chronic medical problems," Richard said. "It's concerning [because] we're seeing people that we probably wouldn't have thought of as being at high risk for being so sick, get sick. And they're getting sick very quickly, and it's scary."
Baton Rouge General says as of Tuesday, it had 23 COVID-19 patients, the most since April 6. 40 percent of those patients were between 20 and 39-years-old.
It's a similar story at Our Lady of the Lake.
"If you go up to our ICU right now, you're going to see 30 and 40-year-olds struggling to breathe," O'Neal said of OLOL. "These are not the same patients."
Both say those who are vaccinated should have some peace of mind in being protected. O'Neal adds individuals should still evaluate their circumstances when it comes to mitigation measures.
Having been through spikes before, Richard and O'Neal say most know what steps to take to remain safe, but this time around, note the best thing one can do is get vaccinated.
"If you've been vaccinated, your chance of getting sick enough for this to really affect you is much lower," Richard said. "So much so, that it's not something we're even seeing right now."
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