A Baton Rouge infectious disease specialist gave a stark account Friday of the dangers of the coronavirus delta variant circulating through Louisiana, saying that it's causing children to lose their parents, pregnant women to lose their babies and that choosing vaccination is the only option to avoid more deaths.
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Dr. Catherine O'Neal, chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, delivered one her most impassioned accounts of the dangers of the virus since the pandemic's beginning at Gov. John Bel Edwards' news conference Friday.
"I want to be clear after seeing what I've seen the past two weeks," O'Neal said. "We only have two choices: we are either going to get vaccinated and end the pandemic. Or we are going to accept death. A lot of it, this surge, and another surge, and possibly another variant."
She said that Our Lady of the Lake is being quickly overwhelmed by the latest surge of patients, who are different from those who got sick with the coronavirus last summer. While last summer's virus was not particularly infectious among children, the delta variant is, she said. And while pregnant women were better able to protect themselves last summer, more and more of them are being admitted to the hospitals this spring.
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"Delta variant is coming for our children," O'Neal said. "We are seeing increased admissions, we are seeing increased office visits, we are seeing sick kids and intubated kids today in our hospital."
O'Neal, who has been one of the governor's close advisers throughout the pandemic, described how the delta variant gets into a patient's body before they know they are sick. For the vaccinated, she said it's OK because their antibodies can still kick in to fight the virus.
"For the unvaccinated, it's like letting a burglar cross all the way through your threshold, all the way into your bedroom and wake you up from sleep before you know it's there," O'Neal said. "Delta variant is sneaky, it's a beast and it has figured out why you are no longer that person who's going to be fine. It's killing us."
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She implored people to realize that people being hospitalized and dying with the virus are their friends and neighbors.
"What are we seeing with our COVID patients?" she said. "When I look through our list every morning, it's my friends. It's my peers. They're 30 and they're 40 and their kids go to school with my kids, and their kids are starting college in three weeks and they're not going to be alive. It is us."
O'Neal put it plainly: "if you don't choose the vaccine, you're choosing death."
"I choose vaccination," she added. "I will sit in Tiger Stadium, I will watch our vaccinated team play a phenomenal game of football over and over again this year. But when I look in the front and the back of me, there will be people who are not there, people who I have high-fived for years, walking up those stands. And it's not because they let their season tickets go. It's because they're not here.'
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