BR.livingstonvax.031121 0119 bf.jpg

Lori Taylor, with the Live Oak High School office staff, right, receives her shot from Jill Rome, RN, as Livingston Parish Public Schools make available the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccination for active employees who registered online for the service Wednesday March 10, 2021, in Livingston, La. Superintendent Joe Murphy said the district anticipated being able to accommodate 720 qualified registrants of which 688 signed up for that day with vaccinations administered by the school systemÕs nurse professionals at the Suma Professional Development Center. Murphy noted that March 10 is currently scheduled to be a professional development day, so no classes are scheduled to be held that day. Livingston will be one of the first school systems in the state to offer vaccinations for COVID-19 in-house.

COVID deaths in Livingston Parish smashed daily and weekly records as the fast-spreading delta variant fuels outbreaks that have soared since July.

Public health officials reported six coronavirus deaths on Thursday — a record single-day figure for the parish since the pandemic entered the state in March 2020. Another five were reported dead on Friday, bringing the parish’s seven-day death toll to 20. The previous single-week record in Livingston was 14, set in February.

Among the dead was longtime Livingston Parish Councilman Don Wheat, who succumbed to the virus on Wednesday evening. He was 62.

''We lost a good friend last night,” parish President Layton Ricks said at Thursday’s council meeting. "Our prayers are with his family and certainly with everyone in the community and all around the country dealing with that.''

Wheat represented the parish’s sixth district, an expansive rural area south of Walker that encompasses small communities like Port Vincent and French Settlement.

Hospitalizations and new cases have soared beyond all previous marks in the pandemic, both in Livingston Parish and across Louisiana. Doctors attribute the surge to low vaccination rates.

Typically a lagging indicator, fatalities are only now reaching new peaks following an earlier surge of cases and hospitalizations that began in July.

The state set single-day and seven-day records for deaths this week, as cases and hospitalizations dipped.

Livingston has one of the lowest rates of inoculation in the Baton Rouge region at 31%, and the parish has been forced to take steps like closing government offices and loosening regulations on ambulances to survive the crush of hospitalizations.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

Patients afflicted with delta seem to die more quickly than in iterations of the virus, Acadian Ambulance Services spokesman Justin Cox said. The company runs rescues across the Capital Region.

While COVID primarily targeted the elderly and medically fragile in the early days of the pandemic, the delta variant has increasingly infected people of all stripes.

“Nothing is the same as in previous waves,” he said. “It seems like there’s no rhyme or reason to who’s infected. In earlier waves you could point to one age group or lifestyle; now it seems like (the virus) doesn’t discriminate at all.”

When his offices shut down in July after 10 employees caught the virus, Ricks told The Advocate that summer gatherings were likely driving spread in the parish. Yet gathering restrictions never materialized, as Gov. John Bel Edwards maintained that vaccinations — not a return to crowd-size limits — are the way out of the surge.

The virus has spread quickly through the parish’s schools in recent weeks with students attending in-person classes since Aug. 10. With nine campuses in the 26,800-student district reporting, Livingston schools on Aug. 18 logged 19 cases of the virus.

By Wednesday that number reached 206 — among the 10th-highest of school districts across the state.

Chances of relief for the pandemic-battered parish appeared slim on Friday as Hurricane Ida quickly approached Louisiana's southern coast.

Ricks declared a formal state of emergency in the parish, which frees up additional resources and money, and announced that Livingston schools and government buildings would close through Monday so people could shelter in place from the coming storm. 


James Finn writes for The Advocate as a Report For America corps member. Email him at JFinn@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter @RJamesFinn.

To learn more about Report for America and to support our journalism, please click here.