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Louisiana's hospitalization rate now lowest in the country

Why health experts say that is, and why they say boosters are important in fighting this virus

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana has had its battles throughout the pandemic. At one point, we had one of the highest hospitalization rates in the nation, and one of the highest death rates in the world. However, now, it's one of the lowest.

Louisiana has battled through the pandemic, including the historic fourth surge.

"For Louisiana it was over 3,000 hospitalized just with COVID, and there was not a bed available in any hospital in the city of New Orleans for weeks and that includes our Children's Hospital," said Dr. Jennifer Avegno.

As quickly as cases rose, numbers finally fell. On November 15, the state reported less than 200 hospitalizations for the first time since the pandemic began. Now, Louisiana (which had one of the nation's highest hospitalization rates) has one of the lowest. Dr. Avegno says cooler weather, the number of vaccinations and the number of people previously infected could be why.

"The unvaccinated portions of our community many of them got the virus. Many recovered, some of course did not so they do have a bit of immunity right now, but that's not going to last forever. So that's why we have to be really mindful of what is happening elsewhere in the country," she said. "There are now up to 100 different mutations within Delta. So the mutation that was dominant in Louisiana in July and August might not be the mutation that's dominating in Minnesota or Michigan. And at some point is that going to come back and re-infect those who aren't vaccinated?"

"I think we still could have another intensive hospitalization surge with more infection because we still have a lot of people who are unvaccinated," said Dr. Susan Hassig.

About 48% of Louisianans are currently fully vaccinated. Dr. Hassig, who's an epidemiologist at Tulane, says that's not enough to prevent another serious wave. And with the holidays approaching, protection is key.

"The best time to try and really crush an infectious pathogen is when it's at it's low point," she said. "And the best way to keep from being on top of the list we don't want to be on, is for people to get vaccinated, for people to get a second shot and for people fully vaccinated to take advantage of the booster."

The Louisiana Department of Health now says anyone 18 and up can get a booster. If eligible, doctors say the time is now to get one.

"What boosters seem to do, is get you back up to a really strong level of protection that's probably going to be more lasting than the original series," said Dr. Avegno."

Though cases are starting to creep up in spots, Louisiana has made progress. And officials hope it continues, so we don't end up where we were a few months back.

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