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Louisiana prisons suspend visitation again as COVID-19 cases soar in the state

Louisiana's eight state-run prisons have suspended prisoner visitation and volunteering in response to the state's recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections said Tuesday. The suspension will last for at least three weeks.

The department said in a statement that it took the "precautionary measure" to "protect its staff and prisoner populations" and will reconsider the suspension on August 16. 

This is not the first time visitation at the prisons has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. The department first suspended visits on March 20, 2020, and did not reinstate them until March 13, 2021. 

As of July 21, there were 26 staff members and no prisoners who were positive for COVID-19 across the eight state-run prisons, according to weekly data reported by the department. But statewide, the Delta variant has helped push cases and hospitalizations to record levels. On Tuesday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 6,797 new COVID-19 cases, the second-highest case count for a single day reported since January. 

Louisiana, which has been designated by the White House as a "state of concern," also saw its largest single-day increase for COVID-19 hospitalizations since March 2020 on Tuesday, when 1,390 hospitalizations were reported statewide.

In response to rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, one of Louisiana's largest hospitals on Monday suspended scheduling for non-urgent surgical procedures that require hospital beds. "Our inpatient facilities remain at capacity," Stephanie Manson, chief operating officer at Our Lady of the Lake hospital, said in a statement. "We made this decision to make additional beds and staff available."

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said Tuesday that 90% of the current hospitalizations due to COVID-19 complications in the state are unvaccinated patients. And as Louisiana is one of the least vaccinated states in the nation, Edwards urged residents to "make the decision today to get vaccinated."

"For anyone asking the question when will this end, the answer is simple: when we decide to do what it takes to end it," he wrote in a statement. "The most impactful tools to make that happen are free and widely available- the three safe and effective vaccines." 

Edwards also advised residents to continue social distancing and echoed recommendations the Louisiana Health Department issued last week that advises both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents to wear face masks indoors.

"As I said recently, this surge is on us, and that means it is up to each of us to do our part to bring it to an end," Edwards said. "It's within our power."

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