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Official: Too soon to say if omicron has peaked in Louisiana

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 4:41 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana officials said Thursday that they hope the state is nearing a peak in new COVID-19 infections driven by the omicron variant — which health experts blame for the state’s fifth surge in new cases and hospitalizations — but they don’t yet see data indicating the peak has arrived.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a Thursday livestreamed news conference in Baton Rouge that he is not planning new mitigation measures despite record numbers of new cases and continued increases in hospitalizations. He and state health officer Dr. Joseph Kanter reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated and boosted, and to wear masks indoors.

Louisiana set its latest record for new cases with 17,592 on Wednesday. Thursday’s new case count was 14,932. But hospitalizations continued to increase at 2,081, up sharply from less than 200 in mid-December. The number was higher than peaks reached in three earlier surges but lower than the last surge driven by the delta variant, when hospitalizations hit 3,000.

As scientists report signs that the omicron wave has peaked in Britain and may be nearing a peak in the U.S., Kanter pointed to some reasons for hope in Louisiana. He noted a recent decrease in the percentage of people with possible COVID-19 symptoms showing up in emergency departments. People with “COVID-like” symptoms made up 16.7% of emergency department visitors last week, Kanter said. That has dropped to 12.5 %.

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But Kanter cautioned against reading too much into that figure.

“Perhaps it’s signaling that our peak might be near,” Kanter said. “On the other hand, EDs have been so very busy, and we’ve been messaging, as have a lot of hospitals, to avoid the ED, avoid the emergency department unless you really need it.”

Kanter also said there has been a pattern in past surges in which the growth of coronavirus cases among people age 18 to 29 is overtaken by growth in cases among children younger than 18. “That is a pattern that we have seen in prior surges a little bit before the peak,” Kanter said. But, he also said the omicron surge is unprecedented and added that he has seen no models that give him confidence yet that the disease is at or near its peak in Louisiana.

A day after New Orleans renewed its indoor mask mandate, Edwards said he is not planning any new statewide mitigation requirements, although he said he will extend a state health emergency declaration set to expire this month. He said decisions on future mitigation measures will depend largely on hospitalizations.