The number of COVID-19 patients in Acadiana’s largest hospital system has quintupled in the first three weeks of July, as the Delta variant appears to be flourishing throughout a region with an extremely low vaccination rate.
The hospitalization surge is being driven primarily by unvaccinated people in a younger age range, according to Amanda Logue, chief medical officer of Ochsner Lafayette General. The average COVID-19 patient at one of OLG’s five hospitals is currently 53, or 10 to 15 years younger than what has been typical over the past year.
There were 50 COVID-19 patients in the OLG system as of Tuesday, up from the average of about 10 the system had consistently seen in the months following the winter surge.
“The concern is not necessarily the number of people that are in here right now. I’d say the concerns are more that they are younger, they are unvaccinated and the trajectory in which this is going,” Logue told reporters in a video call Tuesday.
There were 110 COVID-19 patients in all Acadiana hospitals as of Monday. While that number is still far off the July 2020 peak of 304, it represented a 134% increase over two weeks. There had been 1,165 cases reported across the region in the past seven days as of Tuesday, or an 80% increase over the previous seven days.
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Over the past year, Ochsner Lafayette and other Acadiana hospital systems have been forced to call off surgeries, expand intensive care staff and install negative air pressure machines to accommodate COVID-19 surges. Logue said such measures are not being considered for the moment, but they could be if community transmission does not slow down soon.
“We have done this now three times before. We know exactly what kinds of triggers to pull,” Logue said. “We are ready to do the next level if we need to.”
Fewer than one in three of the Acadiana region’s 605,000 residents are fully vaccinated, and even they are now at greater risk with transmission quickly accelerating. “Breakthrough” cases in fully vaccinated people are uncommon, and those resulting in serious illness are extremely rare.
Nationally, about 5,500 vaccinated patients with breakthrough coronavirus infections have been hospitalized or died, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About one in four of those hospitalizations and deaths were unrelated to the virus. More than 158 million people in the United States — slightly less than half the population — are considered fully vaccinated.
Still, about 10% of recent COVID patients admitted to Ochsner Lafayette General’s five hospitals have been vaccinated, according to Amanda Logue, the chief medical officer. Breakthrough cases have always been anticipated, Logue said, but they are less of concern when community transmission is slower. New cases and hospitalizations are now spiking across Acadiana at rates similar to late June 2020, about three weeks before the region saw its worst coronavirus rates.
Logue recommended that vaccinated people resume wearing masks in grocery stores and other higher risk areas.
“When people were getting their vaccines initially, the overall Covid numbers were going down. There just wasn’t a lot of circulating virus,” Logue said.