Emergency medical responders in New Orleans have been hit so hard by the resurgence in Covid-19 cases that the city doesn’t have the capacity to handle 911 calls, the mayor said Friday as she announced a new mask mandate and a contract to increase EMS resources.
“Thanks to the Delta variant, the Covid pandemic is once again raging out of control,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at a news conference.
“We have been here before; we’ve seen the movie. … What was once unpreventable, today is preventable. And it’s through our people getting vaccinated.”
Over the past week, the city saw more than 1,000 new Covid-19 cases, Cantrell said. And the daily case average also spiked to 272, up from 104 last week, she said.
“This is a very dangerous number,” she said. “Our children are dying. From two weeks old to two years old to four years old. You cannot make it up. Our children are dying.”
The mayor’s mask mandate is effective immediately and applies to indoor settings and large outdoor crowds. The mayor is also requiring all city employees to get vaccinated.
More than 71% of New Orleans city employees are vaccinated, but that is not good enough, Cantrell said.
“You really need that mask on, period – whether you are vaccinated and, of course, if you are unvaccinated,” she said.
As for the EMS, Cantrell said, “We currently do not have the capacity to respond to 911 calls that come from our community right now.”
With only 36.8% of Louisiana’s population fully vaccinated, the state saw the country’s highest case rate per 100,000 people over the past week at 573.3 cases, federal health shows.
The state’s seven-day death rate per 100,000 people is 1.7, the third-highest in the nation, with Nevada being the highest and Arkansas in second, according to the federal data published Friday.
The rise in cases has pushed Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to seriously consider a mask mandate.
“The Delta variant is a game-changer, and at this point, it’s not whether we vaccinate or mask, we have to do both,” Edwards said Friday at a news conference.
“Right now at least 83.7% of all the Covid cases in our region is a result of the Delta variant, and so anyone who is Covid positive in Louisiana should assume that it is from the Delta variant, and ultimately you have to take the same precautions, regardless,” he said.
The variant has been spreading throughout the country, alarming health officials. Safety restrictions and mask guidances are making a return as cases rose by at least 10% in nearly every US state in the last week, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The variant spreads quicker and more easily than the first coronavirus strain and can infect fully vaccinated people whose symptoms are usually milder.
And with lagging vaccination numbers, children are bearing the brunt of new cases.
Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases now that is twice what they saw in the pandemic’s initial surge last year, said Dr. Trey Dunbar, the hospital’s president.
“We’ve seen over the past couple of weeks a pretty dramatic increase,” Dunbar told CNN by phone Friday. “A good number more of children are requiring hospitalization.”
The hospital is currently treating seven Covid-19 patients, but Dunbar estimated eight to 12 patients are being admitted per day. The hospital is up to about six admissions per day with about 50% of those patients going to the ICU, according to Dunbar.
Meanwhile, Louisiana’s Caddo Parish will require everyone to wear masks in its facilities and buildings starting Monday. According to the state health department, 32% of the parish’s population is fully vaccinated.
CNN’s Hannah Sarisohn, Jeremy Grisham, Deanna Hackney, and Paul P. Murphy contributed to this report.