COVID case counts may be losing importance amid omicron

FILE - Medical staff tend to a patient with coronavirus, on a COVID-19 ward inside the Willis-Knighton Medical Center in Shreveport, La., on Aug. 18, 2021. The explosive increase in U.S. coronavirus case counts is raising alarm, but some experts believe the focus should instead be on COVID-19 hospital admissions. And those aren't climbing as fast.

NEW ORLEANS - More than 1 million Louisiana residents have been diagnosed with the coronavirus since the pandemic started in 2020, according to new data from the Louisiana Department of Health.

The state officially crossed the million-case threshold with Tuesday's data update from the department, which included 21,608 new confirmed cases and 7,517 probable cases since Friday. Those new cases bring the total number of people infected since March 2020 to 1,025,748, with 43,899 of those individuals catching the virus more than once.

All told, that means more than one in five Louisiana residents has tested positive for the virus at some point in the past 22 months. In addition, an unknown number of people have been infected but either were never diagnosed by a positive test for the virus or received confirmation from an at-home test, the vast majority of which are not included in the state's numbers.

In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state had reached "a sobering milestone."

“While we are looking for early signs that this current omicron surge is letting up, we still have far too many sick people in our state and far too many people in our hospitals with COVID. Most tragically, 15,195 Louisianans have died of this illness, which we know is now largely preventable,” Edwards said.

Tuesday's update includes three day's worth of data, since the Department of Health did not report statistics on Monday because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The update includes signs that the massive surge in cases brought by the omicron variant of the coronavirus is starting to slow, though the new daily case counts remain at levels far higher than any prior wave. About 52,550 new confirmed cases were reported over the last seven days, nearly twice as many as at the peak of the delta wave last summer.

However, the weekly case count is lower than the nearly 60,000 cases reported last week.

Hospitalizations throughout the state continue to rise, though more slowly than have during earlier stages of the surge. There were 2,183 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus in Louisiana on Monday - the last day for which data is available - a 15% increase over the week before.

"While thankfully Omicron is on average less likely to put you in the hospital than other variants, that is just an average," State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter said in a press release. "It is still possible to get very sick from COVID-19 as the large number of people currently hospitalized in Louisiana show us. The best possible protection against being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 is getting vaccinated and boosted as soon as you are eligible."

The Department of Health also reported 42 new deaths confirmed to have been caused by the coronavirus and 16 new deaths that were likely caused by the virus on Tuesday. That brings the weekly total of confirmed deaths to 66, only a slight increase from the 65 weekly deaths reported a week ago.