Louisiana has seen its fourth straight day of record-setting hospitalizations in the last COVID-19 update of the week, continuing a grim trend as cases and deaths rise in the pandemic's fourth wave.
Across the state, 2,421 people were hospitalized with COVID as of Friday. That's a jump of 71 from the previous day's total. 90% of those patients are unvaccinated.
More than 6,100 new cases were also reported Friday alongside 48 new deaths linked to the virus. Over 11,000 people have died in Louisiana from coronavirus-related health issues or the virus itself since the pandemic began last March.
Louisiana is struggling with the record-setting fourth surge of COVID-19 driven by the delta variant and low vaccination rates. The state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation and is seeing one of the country’s worst COVID-19 spikes per capita.
For the past three days, each new update to the state's coronavirus dashboard has broken hospitalization records, with 2,350 COVID patients hospitalized as of Thursday.
CEO Warner Thomas said Thursday that almost 900 of those patients were in Ochsner beds.
And that number is predicted to grow, he said.
"This is gonna keep escalating. We think it will escalate in the next several weeks," Thomas told reporters. "It is absolutely reaching a critical situation. We are looking at other ways to open bed capacity beyond our normal beds."
Even with the current spike continuing an upward trend, epidemiologists are still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"What we're worried about, from an infectious disease perspective, is that the next mutation of delta, or the next mutation of something else that's not affected by our vaccines," said Sandy Kemmerly, the hospital system's Assistant Medical Director of Hospital Quality.
That strain could be an offshoot of the delta variant, such as a further mutation of the delta+ strain, or some entirely new branch of the virus spreading among the unvaccinated population.
The delta variant itself proves how quickly a more infectious or deadlier strain of the virus can cause major problems.
Hospital administrators estimate that the original strain of COVID, designated as alpha, is all but extinct in Louisiana.
"95% plus of cases are delta in our region and we don't know yet if there will be more variants," said Katherine Baumgarten, who heads Ochsner's infection control and prevention efforts.
But there is some good news.
On Thursday, the LDH reported more than 54,000 vaccine doses had been administered since Monday, surpassing the milestone of 2 million residents who have received at least one dose.
A spokesperson for Gov. John Bel Edwards' office confirmed Friday that the state's vaccination rate was climbing faster than it had at any point past April.