Hurricane Ida struck Southern Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane Sunday, tearing roofs and knocking out generators of hospitals filled with thousands of COVID-19 patients amid a fourth coronavirus surge sparked by the highly contagious delta variant and low vaccination rates across the state.
As of Sunday, there were more than 2,400 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, Gov. Bell Edwards told the Associated Press. Some hospitals have been able to evacuate a small number of patients while others say they’re planning to evacuate “once it is safe to do so,” according to the state health department spokesperson Aly Neel.
Some hospitals located in Lafourche Parish, where Ida made landfall, were immediately impacted by the storm. Lady of the Sea General Hospital reported extensive roof damage, while Thibodaux Regional Medical Center reported a partial generator failure.
Edwards said a major focus will be on making sure there is enough generator power and water at hospitals so they can keep up with vital patients’ needs, such as providing oxygen or powering ventilators.
“I hate to say it this way, but we have a lot of people on ventilators today and they don’t work without electricity,” he said.
Mississippi and Alabama COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU usage are also at record-high levels, at a time when severe staff shortages in recent months have threatened health care capacity and emergency services.
"We've got a hurricane season coming, we've got a pandemic," said Mike Evans, director of the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency in coastal Alabama. "How many more things can you pile on top of folks?"
Also in the news:
►A judge in Chicago barred the mother of an 11-year-old boy from partial parental custody of seeing her son because she is not vaccinated against COVID-19. She's appealing the decision, claiming the judge was placing his views onto her. Read the full story.
►Contact tracers say the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota is the source of at least 178 COVID-19 infections across five states. Since the start of the rally, cases in South Dakota have shot up, and the epicenter of the rally, Meade County, is reporting the highest rate of cases in the state.
►West Virginia reported its highest number of weekly COVID-19 cases since January, a total of 5,333 for the six-day period ending Saturday.
►Police in Greece clashed with anti-vaccine protesters on Sunday in central Syntagma Square, using tear gas, stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse some of the estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people who shouted obscenities at the police and against Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
►Adding to the growing evidence that the delta variant might cause more severe illness than previous strains of the coronavirus, a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases indicates the delta could double the risk of hospitalization among the unvaccinated.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 38.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 637,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 216.3 million cases and 4.5 million deaths. More than 173.5 million Americans – 52.3% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: Which students missed class during COVID-19? We asked. And, schools don’t know. Read the full story.
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The European Union lifted travel restrictions for U.S. visitors in June, seeking to boost tourism and also expecting reciprocity in return. The latter never came, and most European travelers are still not allowed in America because of COVID-19 limitations.
The European Council removed the U.S from the list of countries whose citizens are allowed to visit for non-essential reasons.
Citing two diplomats, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday the EU had been pondering for about a month removing the U.S. The impetus for such a decision has grown as U.S. admission continues to be denied to Europeans.
The Biden administration has resisted pressure to rescind the travel restrictions, pointing to the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus as a reason to remain cautious. New infections in the U.S. have spiked to an average of more than 150,000 a day and hospitalizations are approaching 100,000, while daily death totals are back to four digits.
Hawaii reported nearly 1,700 COVID-19 infections on Sunday, a "tidal wave of cases" that is straining the island's health care infrastructure.
The state's record high of 1,678 included a backlog from one lab, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. The Aloha State has documented 10,817 new coronavirus cases in the past 14 days.
“This tidal wave of cases is straining our ability to respond at all levels – our hospitals, our labs and even our morgues are nearing or at capacity,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char. “We have not yet reached the peak of this surge, and we will not until Hawaii residents take further steps to protect themselves and their families.”
The U.S. is sticking with it eight-month timeline for COVID-19 booster shots, at least for now, the nation's top infectious disease expert said Sunday.
President Joe Biden had suggested Friday that the administration was weighing whether to give booster shots as early as five months after vaccination as the super contagious delta variant drives up transmission rates across the U.S. Biden had cited advice he received from the Israeli prime minister.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that officials are open to shifting the recommendation based on evolving information, but for now the eight months stands.
“We’re not changing it, but we are very open to new data as it comes in. We’re going to be very flexible about it,” Fauci said.
Florida's surge leads the nation as it reports more cases and deaths than it did at the start of the pandemic before vaccines.
As state hospitals reach capacity, the Central Florida region is receiving 14 portable refrigerated morgues to help overwhelmed hospital morgues store bodies, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Two of Orlando's major hospital systems will each receive three morgues, the Sentinel reported. The Central Florida Disaster Medical Coalition, which ordered the morgues, said each morgue holds a dozen bodies.
“The number of deaths right now is unprecedented,” the coalition's executive director, Lynne Drawdy, told the Sentinel.
Contributing: Steve Kiggins and Nada Hassanein USA TODAY; The Associated Press