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Omicron hospitalizations appear to be peaking in Louisiana; see latest COVID data

Patrick Madden

The omicron surge that has caused a record number of Louisianans to contract COVID-19 could be peaking.

Officials at Ochsner Health, the largest health system in Louisiana and operator of 40 hospitals in the Gulf South, said during a call with reporters Monday that the number of patients they’re treating for COVID is on the decline.

Hospitalizations appeared to have peaked at Ochsner facilities across the state on Jan. 11, at 726 people. That’s about a third lower than the largest number hospitalized during the delta surge on Aug. 9, when 1,074 patients were being treated at its hospitals.

The data varies across the state, though. The surge seems to have peaked in the New Orleans area first, said Warner Thomas, Ochsner Health CEO.

Baton Rouge, the Northshore, Lafayette and north Louisiana all seemed to be a few weeks delayed behind the New Orleans area. Across the Northshore, hospitalizations appeared to have plateaued, he said.

The latest data from the Louisiana Department of Health buttressed the idea that omicron is waning.

On Jan. 19 there were 2,367 people hospitalized across the state. Monday’s data showed 2,127 people hospitalized, a drop of over 200 in less than a week.

That would leave delta as the worst surge Louisiana has yet witnessed. At the peak of the delta surge on Aug. 17, 3,022 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Louisiana.

If these trends continue, the omicron surge will have caused the second-highest rate of hospitalized COVID patients over the five surges seen in Louisiana since the pandemic’s outbreak.

The data show omicron, though a milder infection for many people, still proved serious for many, causing severe illness and clogging hospitals already suffering from staffing shortages.

Omicron also caused far more hospital employees to quarantine than during any other surge. At Ochsner, the number of employees quarantining peaked on Jan. 6 at 1, 414, about triple the number who were quarantined during the peak of the delta surge at its facilities, which was 530 employees.

As of Monday, 628 Ochsner employees were still off work after having tested positive for or been exposed to COVID-19.

Omicron has sent fewer patients to intensive care units and caused fewer deaths than the summer delta surge in Louisiana, but officials noted that’s partly thanks to the immunity gained from vaccination and booster shots.

Chief medical officer Dr. Robert Hart said that unvaccinated people who were hospitalized with COVID were far younger than those who’d been vaccinated.

“There is a significant jump in the younger population 18 to 49 if they're unvaccinated, so again, this speaks to the efficacy of getting vaccinated,” he said.

The average age of hospitalized patients during the surge has been 65, but almost 70% of people who were unvaccinated and hospitalized with COVID were younger than that, Hart said.

By comparison, the majority of partially and fully vaccinated patients were over the age of 65, he said.

“We're not seeing boosted individuals that are young and healthy in our hospitals or in our ICU,” added Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, the system medical director.

Officials said the data boded well for the Mardi Gras season, but stressed the need for vaccinations, booster shots and masks to continue to mitigate the virus’ spread.

As with previous surges, it appeared omicron could be waning because it has already spread so quickly and widely among the population. Test positivity at Ochsner facilities peaked at 40% during part of the surge, an extremely high rate.

“That's a bad thing,” Hart said, but it also means many people will have some immunity.

“We hope that that will give some protection as we go into the Mardi Gras season.”

Rosemary Westwood is the public reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.