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Louisiana's Current COVID-19 Surge Is Its Worst Yet

Mobile, Ala., paramedic Lisa Chestang recites the Pledge of Allegiance on Monday with nearly three dozen health care workers who arrived from around the country to help supplement the staff at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, La.
Mobile, Ala., paramedic Lisa Chestang recites the Pledge of Allegiance on Monday with nearly three dozen health care workers who arrived from around the country to help supplement the staff at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, La.

In Louisiana, which now has the country's highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita, Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered an indoor mask mandate and offered a stark warning:

"Nobody should be laboring under the misapprehension that this is just another surge," Edwards said Monday. "We've already had three of these. This is the worst one we've had thus far."

Dr. Joseph Kanter, an emergency room doctor and the top medical official of the Louisiana Department of Health, spoke with NPR's Morning Edition about the increasingly dire situation. Listen to the full interview.

Delta changed the game. Kanter says the state went from its lowest to highest number of cases and hospitalizations in just four weeks, and the surge doesn't show signs of slowing.

Hospitals have "never been busier." "We're on track today, short of a divine intervention, to exceed the peak, at any point prior in the pandemic, of the number of hospitalized COVID patients," Kanter says. Large hospital systems have had to cancel procedures and decline patient transfers, and he's heard stories of patients sitting in emergency rooms for four or five days while teams try, unsuccessfully, to find them a bed.

There's a staffing shortage. Many nurses have taken time off, pursued nonclinical jobs or gone back to school after a challenging year. Hospitals are struggling to recruit and retain new nurses and have had to call in federal disaster assistance medical teams — what Kanter calls a "drastic move" that typically only follows natural disasters.

Vaccines have a new sense of urgency. About 37% of Louisiana residents are fully vaccinated. Up until now, Kanter says, there was a sense that a lot of people would get the jab at some point, just not yet. But it's a small state, and many people now know others who are getting sick — and they're scared. The rate of vaccinations has increased fourfold over the past two weeks, and Monday saw 11,000 people opting to begin their vaccine series. He adds: "I guarantee each one of them would rather have done it five weeks ago."

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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