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Louisiana hospitals overrun, but peak could be weeks away

Facilities are increasingly having to turn away people with other life-threatening emergencies such as heart attacks or strokes, Dr. Joseph Kanter says.

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana's top health officer says the peak of the state's latest coronavirus surge may be weeks away. Dr. Joseph Kanter said that could be a “catastrophic” scenario for hospitals already overrun with COVID-19 patients. 

He says facilities are increasingly having to turn away people with other life-threatening emergencies such as heart attacks or strokes.

Kanter was providing an update Tuesday to the state's top higher education board. 

The Associated Press reports that one person who suffered a heart attack was bounced from six hospitals before finding an emergency room in New Orleans that could take him in, Kanter said.

"This is a real dire situation," Kanter said. "There's just not enough qualified staff in the state right now to care for all these patients."

Officials around the state have been raising similar alarms, urging people to get vaccinated and wear masks in public places. More than 6,000 new statewide infections were reported Tuesday, with 93 more deaths. Hospitalizations set another daily record at 2,859.

The unprecedented pace of hospitalizations in this fourth surge has pushed the healthcare system to its breaking point. The health department said there were 246 ICU beds available across the state. Three of Louisiana’s health regions - which includes 19 parishes - were down to just single-digit ICU beds available.  

On the Northshore, one of the epicenters of the latest virus surge in Louisiana, hospitals are running low on medical resources and tolerance. Frustrated by the number of cases among the unvaccinated, medical leaders are pleading with folks to get vaccinated and wear a mask.

"I've never seen anything like this. We are hit with a tsunami every single day," Dr. Michael Hill with the St. Tammany Health System said. 

The highly contagious delta variant and low vaccination rates are blamed for the latest spread of the virus. The LDH says that close to 45 percent of Louisiana’s population have had one vaccine dose; 38 percent are fully vaccinated. Soaring case numbers have prompted the cancellation of the New Orleans Jazz Fest, which was set for this fall. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.