COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations in Louisiana are beginning to decrease after prolonged surge – The Reveille, LSU’s student newspaper

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Louisiana are beginning to decrease after the state’s longest surge, according to a Louisiana Department of Health Official.

The latest surge is the state’s sixth and was originally caused by the BA.2 variant but prolonged by the BA. 5 variant, causing many to refer to it as a “surge within a surge.”

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As cases decline in the state and nationwide, cases in the Baton Rouge area are following a similar pattern.

“We would have peaked and gone down earlier had it just been a BA.2 surge, but because BA.5 picked up in the middle, it just prolonged the surge,” said Joseph Kanter, the director of the Louisiana Department of Health.

The BA.5 variant is currently the dominant strain, making up 90% of cases between Aug. 7 and Aug. 13.

Kanter explained that it will still take some time for cases to go down to a normal level but that cases are headed in the right direction.

Although this surge caused as high of an increase in cases as previous surges, it didn’t cause as high of an increase in hospitalizations and deaths, making it less disruptive. This is because the latest variants are less severe than previous variants. 

He also said that 95% of the state has either been vaccinated or has had COVID-19, which has increased total immunity to the virus, and there are better treatments for the virus now, such as antiviral medications like Paxlovid and Molnupiravir.

“Should we have more surges in the future, and I think we probably will, we’ve got more and more tools to manage those surges without having to resort to disruption, to aggressive mitigation efforts, those sorts of things,” Kanter said.

Due to the increase in at-home testing, which doesn’t get formally reported, new difficulties in gathering data on case numbers have arisen. Therefore, the formal case count is an underestimation, but Kanter said this isn’t a significant problem.

“You don’t have to count every raindrop to know that it’s raining,” Kanter said. “There are many other measures that we look at to get a sense from a population standpoint, from a public standpoint, where this outbreak is going.”

Kanter said the LDH looks at case counts, percentage of test positivity, hospitalizations, deaths, and wastewater surveillance to get an idea of where the outbreak’s going. So, the decreasing accuracy of the total case count isn’t as much of a challenge.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard, as of Aug. 19, there was a 7-day average of 1,445 new cases,  485 people hospitalized and 21 people on ventilators. 

The dashboard also stated that 52% of the state has been fully vaccinated and, at the surge’s peak, there was an average of 2,804 new cases.

Breaking with other Louisiana public universities, LSU dropped its COVID-19 vaccine requirement for the fall semester.

LSU Spokesperson Ernie Ballard said LSU will keep the HEPA filters in classrooms and continue wastewater testing. The university will have a Health and Medical Advisory committee in place to share best practices and guidance for any changes that may need to be made.

He also said LSU will continue to monitor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidance.

According to an email sent from the university on Aug. 16 updating students about COVID-19 protocols, LSU will not require the vaccine for the fall semester; however, they recommend that students be fully vaccinated and boosted.