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A Q&A with Louisiana's top doctor on the latest COVID-19 surge

Paul Murphy speaks with Louisiana Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joe Kanter about the current trajectory of the virus.

NEW ORLEANS — The number of new Covid-19 cases is surging in Louisiana and across the country.  

Thursday, President Joe Biden tested positive for the virus. Last month, Governor John Bel Edwards had Covid as well.

Paul Murphy spoke with Louisiana Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joe Kanter about the current trajectory of the virus.

Murphy: How long have we been in this current Covid surge?

Kanter: We’ve been in a surge for quite some time. This has become the longest duration or is on track to be the longest duration surge we’ve had in the pandemic. We started having cases increase at the end of April and they’re still going up. We haven’t yet peaked.

Murphy: Louisiana is now averaging about 3,000 new Covid cases a day. What does that really mean?

Kanter: We all know that’s an undercount because so many more people are getting tested at home with rapid tests. Those tests don’t come to us, formally, the health department. For every one case we formally diagnose, there’s probably at least 4 or 5 cases out there that we just don’t get formally diagnosed.

Murphy: What percent of the tests now reported to the state are positive for Covid?

Kanter: That number is at above 28 percent right now which is about as high as it’s ever been in this pandemic.

Murphy: How do the symptoms in this latest variant (BA.5) compare to previous mutations of the virus?

Kanter: The good news is the infections that we’re seeing right now are usually mild. We’re not seeing the degree of severe illness, at least in the numbers we saw in earlier parts of this pandemic.

Murphy: How does that translate in terms of hospitalizations?

Kanter: Today, we have a little bit over 700 hospitalized patients with Covid in the state. At this point in time in other surges of that we had, we would have had 2,000 or 3,000 hospitalized Covid patients. 

In our Delta surge, which was last Fall, at the peak of that, about 20 percent of patients in the hospital with Covid were sick enough to be on ventilators. 

In our initial Omicron surge, which was January, February of this year, that number was 10 percent. 

Right now, this surge, it hasn’t broached 5 percent.

Murphy: Do you see a return to a mask mandate in this current surge?

Kanter: With the protection we have with the vaccines, with 95 percent of the population in Louisiana having been vaccinated or infected or both, I don’t think we’re going to get there again, but I can’t guarantee that.

Murphy: Do you see any issues when children go back to school in the coming weeks?

Kanter: For schools that are going back within a couple of weeks, I think they’re going to have some outbreaks that hospitals are going to have to contend with. Even if we peak tomorrow, and there’s no guarantee that we will, it’s going to take time to come down from the height that we are right now.

I think it’s something that the schools will have to deal with. That said, it’s not the first time. Schools have endured quite a number of surges so far.

Murphy: What should people be doing to protect themselves from being infected?

Kanter: While we’re surging, it’s not a bad idea to wear a mask, particularly in indoor, crowded spaces. I would recommend that to anyone who wants to take added measures to protect themselves and protect their family.

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