For weeks, experts have been supporting the effects of the Delta variant, a version of coronavirus first discovered in India that is twice as contagious and has an improved ability to avoid protective antibodies. Now, an astonishing new rise in cases suggests that Delta is established in Louisiana and the previously beaten virus is on the rise again.
“I think we’re in it,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, Assistant Secretary of Health. “We see what is likely to be the beginning of increases.”
Over the past week, cases have risen by 3,360, the largest increase since March 4, the winter end of the tail end. Cases have more than doubled in the last 14 days, probably an effect of the more contagious Delta variant that has found its way to unvaccinated hosts.
Delta is now the dominant tribe in the United States and accounts for 52% of new cases. In Louisiana and neighboring states, it is responsible for up to 59% of new cases.
With one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, Louisiana residents have a higher risk of coronavirus infection. Only 39% of the population has received at least one shot, just behind the Mississippi. Nationally, the vaccine launch rate is 55%, with states like Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts now over 70%.
“Across the country, the increase will be greater in the areas that have lower vaccination rates, which unfortunately is us and a number of our neighboring countries,” Kanter said. “There’s just no question about it.”
It is unclear how long the increase will be sustained, though experts said people hospitalized because of the virus are unlikely to overwhelm health care systems in Louisiana as they did in the past. Deaths and hospitalizations that in a few cases lag a few weeks after increases will still increase, but at least part of the population – including most elderly people who accounted for the majority of deaths before vaccines were available – is protected by the vaccines .
“I do not expect it to be as bad as it was in March last year and January this year, but it will not be beautiful if we do not get it,” said Dr. Julio Figueroa, an infectious expert at LSU Health New Orleans.
Figueroa sees an increase in inpatients, especially younger people. But he also sees an increase in COVID among vaccinated people with weakened immune systems, such as transplant patients.
Doctors also said they see more transmission among family members and close contacts, a product of the Delta variant infectivity that can be transmitted in volatile interactions. Authorities in Australia believe an outbreak was triggered there when a limo driver with COVID-19 infected others in an indoor mall and a café, despite not interacting directly with them.
David Owens figured he might come down with COVID-19.
“A household member who got other members sick of the ‘garden-black’ strain was, if you will, anywhere from 11% to 20%,” said Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, an infectious disease expert at Ochsner Health. more likely to spread rapidly among the family, people gathering together. ”
Since June 30, Ochsner has seen inpatients increase from 55 to nearly 100.
The increase is not close to previous increases yet, but it is all the more tragic with available vaccines.
“We see people getting very sick, and the family has not been vaccinated, and their loved one is dying, and that may be a bit of a realization too late,” Kemmerly said. “And it’s heartbreaking.”
But it is also frustrating for healthcare providers who have been fighting the pandemic for 16 months.
“We knew back in the spring of 2020 that vaccines were our way out of this,” Kemmerly said. “Here we are now, in the summer of 2021, with very effective vaccines and people who are not willing to take them for some reason.”
Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief physician at Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, said she is experiencing flashbacks to last summer’s wave.
“It looks eerie last July,” said O’Neal, who described a slow increase in community outreach before the widespread transmission caused hospitalizations to skyrocket. “It’s like someone throwing gasoline on the fire.”
The delta variant of COVID-19 has created a new, worrying variant known as delta-plus, which has been identified for the first time on Louisian …
And while more people are protected now than they were last year, natural immunity to past infection does not protect against the Delta variant.
“We have assumed this premise for communities that were hit hard early, maybe there is some natural immunity that helps,” O’Neal said. “It does not help with this variant.”
When the vaccines became available, over 99% of coronavirus deaths in Louisiana were in people who were unvaccinated. Only 27 of the 3,920 deaths were among people fully vaccinated, Kanter said Thursday. The state has averaged 45 to 65 deaths a week over the past few months, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
The vaccines are a relatively good match for the Delta variant, with studies showing that the Pfizer vaccine is somewhere between 64% and 88% effective.
But rising cases also threaten vaccinated, albeit to a much lesser extent. As cases increase, there will be more chances for so-called ‘breakthrough cases’. And the more transmissions, the more opportunities for the virus to mutate in ways that allow it to slip past the vaccine’s defenses. Officials are calling for inoculation now while the vaccines are effective.
“If we get vaccinated, we can do something about it,” Kemmerly said. “If we are not vaccinated, we may want the variants to be what they are now and not what they may be in the future.”
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