BR.monoclonal.092221 TS 154.jpg

Reclining chairs and infusion equipment for administering monoclonal antibody treatment to COVID-19 patients are in the process of being set up inside a large enclosed tent on North Blvd., across the street from Entrance 3 of Baton Rouge General Hospital Mid City, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. Administering of monoclonal antibody treatment to patients who have contracted COVID-19 is slated to start at that site on Thursday, run by teams contracted by the La. Dept. of Health.

COVID-19 cases and deaths have dwindled in Baton Rouge in the past few weeks as the summer’s delta variant-driven wave subsides, hospitals and state data show.

Staff at Baton Rouge General Hospital were caring for five virus patients on Tuesday evening and had gone two days without admitting a new one, a spokesperson said. Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center had 14. And Ochsner Baton Rouge went two days without a single COVID-19 patient in its facility — a figure staff had been “longing for” for many weeks, the hospital said.

“We had two very sick people who we thought may have COVID,” said Ochsner chief nursing officer Dianne Teal. “The first test came back negative, and it was down to one. When the second patient’s test result came back negative on Monday afternoon, we thought, ‘is this it?’.”

The numbers are a stark departure from a wave of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths that overwhelmed Louisiana’s healthcare system just a few months ago. For weeks, the state hosted the country’s worst virus outbreak as the highly-transmissible delta variant tore through a population with low vaccination rates, despite myriad public outreach campaigns.

Now, with more people vaccinated and some fraction of the population immune due to prior infection, cases and deaths are subsiding in the Deep South even as hot spots emerge elsewhere in the country.

Deaths are slowing in the region, too. East Baton Rouge Parish reported one death from COVID on Tuesday, the first in weeks. 

The parish has seen 998 COVID deaths the pandemic started in March 2020.

Vaccine news in your inbox

Once a week we'll update you on the progress of COVID-19 vaccinations. Sign up today.

Shrinking virus hospitalizations in the capital city are a microcosm of what’s happening across Louisiana. The number of people hospitalized in the state has tumbled more than 54% over the past month, with just 209 COVID patients now in hospital beds statewide.

During the August peak, 3,022 beds were occupied with COVID patients.

Still, health experts warn that the state’s declining case growth is not necessarily here to stay.

The South is “set up to be slammed again,” said Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, in a podcast interview Monday.

Even though COVID infections are low right now, protection will likely fade in the region because people with natural immunity aren't likely to get vaccinated in the future, he said. But new antiviral medicines may lessen the blow when cases return, Wachter said.

Local health workers want residents to remain cautious, too.

“I’m so happy, but want to provide a word of caution,” Teal said. “We are still seeing positive COVID cases in our emergency department and at our community testing sites. This isn’t over, but we need to take every victory.”

Staff writer Emily Woodruff contributed to this report. 


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.