Governor John Bel Edwards looks up at colored glass skylight outside of the new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport on Wednesday, January 19, 2022, in Lafayette.

Louisiana officials said Thursday there’s reason to believe the state is nearing a peak in new COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant but cautioned that even after the latest surge turns a corner, the risk of infection will remain exceptionally high.

For a second week in a row, Louisiana saw a decrease in the share of emergency room patients exhibiting COVID-19-like illness, falling to 11.5% from 12.5% a week ago. At the same time, the percent of tests coming back positive dipped for the first time in a while, even as the state administered a record number of tests.

“You never really know for sure that you’ve peaked until you’re on the other side of it,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, the state health officer and an emergency medicine physician. “It is true now and it will remain true for the next couple of weeks that there’s just more COVID out there in Louisiana than at any point prior in the pandemic.”

Earlier this week, the state surpassed 1 million infections – meaning at least one in five Louisiana residents have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic. Still, that’s likely an undercount, given the proliferation of at-home tests and the prevalence of asymptomatic cases.

Louisiana counted 70 coronavirus outbreaks last week, the most since the pandemic began. Half of those occurred in retail settings where masks weren’t worn, prompting Edwards to reiterate the importance of wearing masks.

Since the start of January, 199 children have been admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. Most of those patients were younger than 4 – and therefore ineligible for vaccination.

Reinfections from COVID-19 have skyrocketed with the latest surge. Their have been 47,342 such cases since the pandemic began, with 1,875 new reinfections logged in Thursday’s update. Kanter said booster shots will help prevent reinfection.

“We strongly recommend you get boosted," Kanter said. "Boosters are so important with omicron.”

President Joe Biden's administration will start shipping 400 million free non-surgical N95 face masks to distribution sites nationwide this week and started a website Wednesday that allows people to be sent COVID tests that they can use at home.

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Edwards said that even when infections peak statewide, certain regions will continue to experience a surge in cases. 

"When we do peak, and we will at some point, it’s not like the whole state rises and falls together. There will be some regions of our state that will be on a plateau, some will be ascending, some will be descending," Edwards said. 

Meanwhile, Louisiana, at least north of Interstate 10, is bracing for freezing rain, slick roads and icy bridges.

Edwards said the winter advisory is focused on southeast Louisiana because of freezing temperatures and precipitation. The worst weather will be in southeastern part of the state but it’s going to be cold all across the state.

“Based on the forecast we’re not expecting power outages,” Edwards said.

The state Department of Transportation and Development is preparing to spread salt over bridges in hopes of keeping as many roads open as possible.

South Louisiana are expected to see a mix of sleet and freezing rain beginning around 9 p.m. Thursday and moving out on Friday by about noon. A cold front headed for the area on Wednesday night was forecast to bring Arctic air followed by a moist atmosphere.

The state will not have any agency office closures but schools and local authorities may close offices on Friday.

Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome announced the delayed opening of City-Parish buildings — including City Hall and all community centers — on Friday due to forecasted winter weather. City-Parish buildings and libraries will open at 10 a.m.

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