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FILE - This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the virus that causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. Some political leaders are hailing a potential breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19: simple pin-prick blood tests or nasal swabs that can determine within minutes if someone has, or previously had, the virus. But some scientists have challenged their accuracy. (NIAID-RML via AP)

One of COVID's latest Louisiana victims wasn't even one year old.

The Louisiana Department of Health reported the baby's death Wednesday, as the weekly death toll from the virus reached its highest point since the pandemic's first wave in spring 2020.

“This news is heartbreaking,” Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer, wrote in a statement. “And it’s a tragic reminder that the numbers we report everyday are also our children, friends and neighbors, and that no one is immune to this virus’ impact.”

The Department of Health did not provide the infant’s exact age or where the death occurred but said a child that young hadn’t died from COVID in Louisiana in more than six months. Twelve children under the age of 18 have died from the disease in Louisiana since the pandemic began.

"Each COVID-19 death in Louisiana has been heart wrenching, but the loss of such a young child, who could not be vaccinated yet, is tragic and a stark reminder of the difficult circumstance we are in throughout Louisiana," Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement. Babies also can't wear masks.

The child’s death was one of 110 fatalities reported in Wednesday’s coronavirus figures, with 85 listed as confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 25 as probable. The disease is blamed for more than 12,000 deaths in Louisiana.

Patrick Sanders, a 14-year-old football player at Baker High School in East Baton Rouge Parish, also died from COVID on Wednesday, city officials confirmed.

Louisiana’s fourth bout with the deadly virus began at the start of July, and while hospital admissions finally appear to be slowing down, deaths have continued to escalate at devastating rates.

There were 361 confirmed COVID deaths over the last week, a 15% increase from the week before and a 464% increase from a month prior. In total, there have been 1,215 deaths from COVID during Louisiana's fourth wave, a rate that outpaces both the second and third waves.

The vast majority of deaths in this latest wave have been among those not fully vaccinated. Of the 366 people who died from COVID in the week ending Aug. 18, some 81% were unvaccinated, according to state health department figures.

Even as the fourth wave has begun to recede among most demographics in the state, children and teenagers remain a point of worry. With schools reopened and serving as fertile ground for the virus, nearly 30 percent of all new cases reported over the past week – or 9,400 infections – have been among those under the age of 18.

Though severe outcomes and deaths among children are still rare, hospital officials have said they've seen an increasing number of pediatric patients needing to be hospitalized, including many who had no other ailments before they caught the virus.

An average of 10 children were admitted to hospitals with confirmed cases of the coronavirus each day this month. As of Tuesday, there were 60 children in Louisiana hospital beds with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID, one of the highest counts recorded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People continue to be admitted to the hospital at exceptionally high levels due to the coronavirus, but the numbers have dipped slightly over the last few days. There were 2,844 patients in the hospital as of Tuesday, a decrease of 12 from the day before.

Doctors agree that the vaccines available continue to offer immense protection against the deadly virus. Still, the jabs aren’t yet available to children under the age of 12, so to protect Louisiana’s youngest residents, public health officials are urging those who can get the jab to take it.

“The best way we can protect ourselves, our loved ones and young children who are not eligible to get the vaccine is to get vaccinated ourselves and wear a mask. It’s really that simple,” Kanter said.

Only 40% of Louisiana residents are fully immunized against COVID-19, according to state health department data. That's one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with only five states registering lower inoculation levels, according to the CDC.

Louisiana’s vaccination campaign could get a proverbial shot in the arm after the federal Food & Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer vaccine on Monday. Louisiana has 200,000 college students and all four of the state's public college systems are requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The requirements kick in as early as Sept. 10 for students at Louisiana State University to submit proof of their first shot and later in the fall for other schools. But Louisiana has a fairly broad set of vaccine exemptions under state law. Students can provide a doctor's note citing a medical condition that precludes getting the vaccine or a "written dissent" form objecting to the shot. Those who choose to remain unvaccinated will be regularly tested for infection.

“We have hope in the form of safe and effective vaccines, but only if many more of us who are eligible and able to actually take them and only if we slow the spread of this illness through masking and distancing as well,” Edwards said.

“All Louisianans, regardless of their age or health status, are worthy of our care and attention,” the governor added. “Every person lost to this virus, young or old, leaves a hole in the fabric of our communities.”

Staff writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report. 


Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater