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LDH says Louisiana omicron has peaked in Louisiana, but urge caution through Mardi Gras season

A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Radoslav Zilinsky
Getty Images
A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

After driving record-high COVID-19 infections in Louisiana and across the country, the omicron surge has peaked in Louisiana as a whole, but state health officials warned Thursday t cases are still rising in some regions of the state.

“We’re going in the right direction,” State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter said during a press briefing. “I’m rather confident that the worst of this particular surge is behind us, but cases are still going to be really high in Louisiana for the next few weeks.”

“It’s pretty clear that certain regions of the state are ahead or behind,” Kanter said. “The New Orleans area probably peaked a couple of weeks ago and is coming down, but in other areas, for example in the Lafayette/Lake Charles area, cases are still going up.”

He added that even in areas of the state where cases are on the downswing, the highly-transmissible omicron variant is still more prevalent than during any previous coronavirus surge. The CDC still categorizes all 64 Louisiana parishes as having the highest possible risk of community transmission.

“Despite the fact that we appear to be moving in the right direction, we’re still experiencing widespread transmission,” said State Epidemiologist Theresa Sokol.

That could prove especially challenging during the carnival season.

“Twenty-eight states are still increasing,” Sokol said. “No matter what our level of transmission is, there is going to be a lot of interaction with folks from other states and other countries that may be a very different place [in the pandemic].”

Kanter said he is unsure what effect Mardi Gras might have on transmission, but he is hopeful that the state’s COVID-19 outlook will continue to improve leading up to Fat Tuesday on March 1.

“I do think the timing will be fortuitous,” Kanter said. “I think [cases] will have gone down considerably by Mardi Gras day. Honestly, my biggest concern is with people who are gathering now for balls or preparties or planning events.”

Kanter urged people to continue to wear masks indoors and in crowds where social distancing is impossible and to get vaccinated and boosted if they have not already done so.

The omicron variant remains especially prevalent among younger populations. Almost 8,000 new COVID cases were reported among K-12 school students in the last week alone, and Sokol suspects that is likely an undercount.

“A lot of schools are not able to report simply because they have so many cases that their contact tracing, isolation and quarantine are taking up too much of their time,” Sokol said.

n Louisiana, pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations this month were higher than any month during the delta surge, Sokol said, underscoring the importance of pediatric vaccines and of parents and caregivers being vaccinated to protect children under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible for the shots.

But while case counts and pediatric hospitalizations reached their highest point during the omicron surge, total hospitalizations in Louisiana never reached the heights achieved when the delta variant surged through the state late last summer.

As of Thursday, the number of people with COVID hospitalized in Louisiana hovered just above the 2,000-mark — well below the all-time high of 3,022 set Aug. 17.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.