Louisiana Governor Warns of 'Frightening' COVID Rise: 'The Fourth Surge is Real'

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has warned that his state is facing a devastating fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, as lawmakers and officials urge voters to accept the vaccine.

Edwards, a Democrat, told a New Orleans radio show Wednesday that the situation in Louisiana is deteriorating. "The fourth surge is real, and the numbers are quite frightening at the moment," Edwards said, according to The Associated Press.

"There's no doubt that we are going in the wrong direction, and we're going there in a hurry."

Only 36 percent of Louisiana residents—some 1.7 million people—are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, below the national average of 49 percent and among the lowest for the entire country.

The state reported 5,388 new infections on Wednesday—the third-highest since the pandemic began—and 2,843 new cases on Thursday. Over the last seven days, the state has reported an infection rate of 47 cases per 100,000 people; the highest in the country.

There has been a 238 percent increase in cases over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times.

There are currently 913 people hospitalized in Louisiana, up from 242 in June—an increase of around 277 percent. This represents the highest number of hospitalizations in the state since February. Fifteen people died on Thursday, bringing the state total to 10,889.

Like in other parts of the country, the Louisiana wave is being driven by the Delta variant of the virus, which is proving more transmissible and deadly than other strains. The Delta variant now accounts for more than 83 percent of new coronavirus cases across the country.

Edwards will hold a press conference on Friday to address the latest surge. State officials and lawmakers are also sounding the alarm, and urging Louisianans to get vaccinated.

Louisiana Department of Health official Dr. Joseph Kanter tweeted on Wednesday: "We remain in the upslope of a dangerous 4th surge. Precautions like masking and distancing will increase safety. Vaccines provide excellent but not absolute protection."

During his monthly "Ask the Governor" radio call-in show on Wednesday, Edwards said there has not been enough focus on the new wave of coronavirus infections gripping the state. "One of the things that I regret most about this week is that the conversation is not about COVID right now," Edwards said. "I am very concerned about where we are."

He added: "I don't care if you're getting a blister checked on, or you're getting admitted to the hospital. We need every doctor-patient encounter to include a conversation about the vaccine."

The Louisiana Department of Health is expected to provide new figures showing a recent increase in vaccine uptake. Aly Neel, a spokesperson for the health department, described the increase as "a little bump."

Representative Steve Scalise is among the Republicans now encouraging voters to accept vaccines. "It's safe and effective," Scalise said in an Instagram post after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday. "It was heavily tested on thousands of people before the FDA gave its approval."

Scalise is one of the Republican lawmakers who has now adopted a pro-vaccine message. Leading figures on the right have for months been publicly skeptical of the vaccine and dismissive of public health measures, but with vaccine rates remaining low in red states and infections again soaring, some in the GOP are changing tack.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis—tipped as a 2024 presidential candidate—has legislated to ban state businesses from demanding customers provide proof of vaccination, and to ban colleges from mandating student inoculations.

But this week, DeSantis told Floridians: "These vaccines are saving lives...They are reducing mortality."

Still, CNN found that almost half of all House Republicans won't say publicly whether they are vaccinated against COVID-19, despite soaring cases and national concern over the Delta variant.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards White House
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards speaks as he meets with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. on April 29, 2020. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images