Cases of COVID-19 are increasing statewide, and it's likely due to the virulent Delta variant, officials with the Louisiana Department of Health said Thursday.
State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter said during a media briefing on the Delta variant that Louisiana has seen an increase in positive cases over the past 18 days in seven of the nine regions.
The percent positivity is also increasing, with a current rate of 4%, up from 3.1% the week prior.
"It's clear right now that COVID is increasing throughout the state and the risk for being exposed to COVID is higher now, than it was a few weeks ago," Kanter said, of the likeliness to contract the Delta variant.
The variant is more transmissible and more virulent than the original strain of COVID-19, meaning if an individual contracts COVID-19 with the Delta variant, they are more likely to get sick, they say.
It's also more likely to affect young people, and the state is seeing more young residents get sick, though Kanter said the number remains relatively low.
According to Kanter, 52% of all new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are due to the Delta variant, and that percentage is higher still at 59% in Louisiana's region, which encompasses Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and New Mexico.
The current vaccines are proving to be a good match so far for the Delta variant.
There have been and will continue to be "the rare" breakthrough cases, Kanter said, which is when someone who is fully vaccinated contracts COVID-19.
To date, more than 46 percent of eligible Louisianans have taken at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to CDC data.
Kanter said, and as summer is about halfway over, schools and education officials are beginning to plan for the upcoming semester, as COVID cases is increasing and is higher in the state now than it was several weeks ago
The Department of Education and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) recently released initial guidance for schools, created in conjunction with the Department of Health.
"The number one thing, everyone wants a normal school semester," said Kanter. "The best thing teachers and families can do is to get vaccinated now. The ability for schools to have a normal fall semester is going to be directly related to what percentage of teachers and students are vaccinated."
The guidance sets a framework for districts, but will possibly be updated once the CDC released revised K-12 guidance in the next week or so.
Over the past several months, the hospitalized COVID census has dropped, which means there is still plenty of room before capacity is threatened, Kanter explained.
Kanter added that the option of reinstating mitigation measures is not off the table, but likely only if hospital capacity were to be threatened.
The governor's emergency proclamation regarding COVID-19 is still in place, and Kanter said he's heard no talk of discontinuing it.
While it no longer carries strong mitigation measures like the mask mandate and business restrictions, it does allow the department to "be nimble" when it comes to its COVID response.
It's important because it means that healthcare workers have easier access to vaccine doses.
Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself and others, Kanter said, is to get vaccinated.
And as a way of encouraging Louisianans to do so, the state's vaccine lottery is set to hold its first drawing on Friday.
More than 600,000 residents have registered so far, and Kanter said officials have definitely seen an increase in vaccinations of about 14% since announcing the incentive.
"That's substantial," said Kanter, "and the increase in vaccinations was encouraging, but it's too soon to say how effective the lottery is overall."
The first of the state's Shot At A Million winners will be announced next week.
Find out more on how to register here.
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