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Battling the coronavirus at Our Lady of Angels Hospital in Bogalusa on Monday, August 9, 2021. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Following two weeks of record-shattering COVID hospitalizations, Louisiana saw a glimmer of hope in its battle against its fourth and worst surge of the deadly virus on Friday when the number of patients hospitalized dropped for the second day in a row.

Louisiana’s hospitals had 2,999 patients with COVID as of Thursday, the latest day for which data is available, a decrease of nine patients from the day before. The state surpassed its previous record on Aug. 2 and kept climbing on 15 of the next 16 days.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said those numbers are still “way too many for a hospital system the size we have in Louisiana,” noting that it’s around one-third higher than the previous peak in hospitalizations set Jan. 7, during the virus’s third wave, when there were 2,069 people in hospitals statewide and vaccines were extremely limited.

“It’s stressing our health care delivery system in ways that we can only begin to imagine,” Edwards said. “Anyone who needs lifesaving care at a hospital in Louisiana is being impacted by this high level of hospitalizations.”

Louisiana continues to report an astronomical number of new COVID-19 infections, with 23,832 confirmed cases over the last week. A quarter of those infections were among those aged 17 and younger, an uptick from the week before when the age group accounted for around a fifth of cases.

Those numbers, in reality, are likely much higher, said Dr. Joe Kanter, the state’s top public health official. That’s because the share of tests coming back positive are extraordinarily high. Among children up to age four, 17.5% of tests are positive. That rises to 28% among those ages five to 17.

“That’s a marker of a lot of disease in these age groups,” Kanter said. “There were myths and misconceptions earlier on in the pandemic that kids don’t get COVID and don’t spread COVID. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

Hospitalizations among children are also on the rise. During the week ending Aug. 14, there were 88 kids admitted to the hospital with COVID, a sharp increase from the 10 kids admitted the week ending July 24, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health.

More Louisiana schoolchildren reported testing positive for the deadly coronavirus last week than during any week last school year, with 2,094 infections among students between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15.

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“It’s up to us, especially adults, to do what we can to protect all of our children,” Edwards said. “We cannot keep our schools open or our kids safe today without masks.”

Joining Edwards at Friday’s news conference was Dr. Kimberly Mukerjee, a pediatrician on the board of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The coalition of 750 physicians published a letter earlier this week supporting the governor’s mandate that masks be worn inside K-12 schools.

That order was supposed to be debated this week at a meeting of the state’s top school board, but the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adjourned their meeting before arriving at the topic after a raucous crowd of attendees refused to put on masks.

Mukerjee said masks are an “essential tool in our toolkit to keep our kids safe,” adding that “now is not the time to politicize things that we know are excellent measures to mitigate the impact of a preventable illness on children.”

Edwards said the “vast majority” of school districts in Louisiana are following the mask mandate, and warned those bucking the order to get with the program or risk shutting down under an outbreak. He added that sending kids to schools without masks is like pouring diesel on a wildfire.

“It would be an absolute recipe for disaster to take kids from all across the state of Louisiana, put them together for seven hours a day, in close proximity to one another, indoors, unmasked and then send them back in the community at the end of the day,” Edwards said. “That is exactly what you don’t do in a public health emergency like we currently have.”

Louisiana reported 56 more COVID-related deaths on Friday, pushing the seven-day toll from the virus to 333. The week prior, 250 people died, and one month ago the weekly rate was 59.

“We all have a role to play. We’re all responsible for reducing transmissions in cases and hospitalizations and death,” Edwards said. “Those who refuse to make the adjustments might just die from COVID and cause other people to die because of COVID.”


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