As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, healthcare facilities in Louisiana are seeing an increase in hospitalizations and positivity rates, something that worries administrators at Ochsner Health.
In a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon, officials said the system currently has 548 COVID-19 patients, a 75% increase from just one week ago, and a 700% increase from one month ago.
Specifically in Lafayette, the number of COVID-19 inpatients went from 54 on July 21 to 90 on July 28, the third highest increase in Ochsner Health's six regions throughout in a one-week period.
President and CEO of Ochsner Health Warner Thomas said during the briefing that the pandemic has become that of the unvaccinated, as 482, or 88%, of the system's current COVID-19 patients, haven't received the vaccine.
The system has begun to modify surgery schedules, especially those that require in-patient stays and especially in the New Orleans and Lafayette areas. The Baton Rouge area is looking to put off surgeries completely.
Administrators say they're concerned that the COVID surge will continue to escalate as more COVID-19 patients are hospitalized. They're looking at things like volume and schedules, and continue to make calls about putting off surgeries on a case-by-case basis.
One of the health system's largest concerns is staffing. Many surgeries are being put off because reserve nursing staff isn't as available as in previous surges, so hospitals are working to not use up additional beds.
Warner said several hundred employees are quarantined, and ultimately being able to staff facilities is the "biggest issue."
Though hospitalizations have increased, the numbers aren't near the level they were during one of the first surges in April 2020 - then, Ochsner reported more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients.
Warner added that vaccination rates vary throughout regions, and the southern portion of the state's rate is much higher than the northern or western.
"The issue isn't bed capacity, the issue is people," he said. "We have to have people staff the beds, that's the challenge. We have ORs over at Lafayette General that we've closed. We've got the ORs there, we just don't have the people to run them. So we've had to close ORs because of not having enough staffing."
As staffing continues to be a concern for Ochsner, administrators explained they have seen an uptick in employee vaccinations, something they are optimistic about. The system has not implemented mandatory vaccines for employees, but is now requiring unvaccinated employees to wear N95 masks and undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
They continue to review and modify their visitor policy as needed. Their latest policy can be found here.
Administrators urged residents to get vaccinated, especially younger individuals, as hospitals are seeing an increase in hospitalizations among younger age groups.
According to Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, Medical Director of Infection Control and Prevention at Ochsner Health, the average patient age has decreased by about 10 years from one year ago and is now 53. Despite the increase in younger patients, most are not being admitted to ICUs as in previous surges.
Warner said if vaccinated, "95% of these folks ... they'd be home" instead of hospitalized.
Overall, administrators say the current surge is not an escalation as was seen in previous months, but reiterates the seriousness of COVID-19, and the urgency of getting vaccinated.
Ochsner has administered more than 480,000 vaccine doses so far, and daily vaccine volumes in clinics and community settings have gone from 500 a day to nearly 800 a day.
Getting vaccinated is a "personal decision," said Warner, "but it's getting to the point where it's affecting other people's medical care. We're trying to get people to understand the gravity of the situation. We can prevent people from getting COVID, right now, if we get more people to get vaccinated."
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