Amid COVID-19 spike, vaccine lottery winners announced

Louisiana announced the first winners of its COVID-19 vaccine lottery this morning, a celebratory moment of cash and scholarship awards darkened by the worries caused by a new surge in COVID-19 cases primarily among the unvaccinated. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards and state health officials hoped the lottery, which will provide $2.3 million in cash prizes to 14 winners, would turn around Louisiana’s lagging vaccination rates. But while the lottery seems to have spurred an uptick in the shots, the governor’s chief health adviser, Dr. Joe Kanter, has acknowledged the vaccination increases were lower than desired.

Two winners were announced Friday. Clement Dasalla, an 80-year-old former police officer from New Orleans, will receive $100,000 in cash, while Skyla Degrasse, a 17-year-old high school senior from Hammond, will get $100,000 deposited into a college savings account. Four more weeks of winners will be announced, with a $1 million grand prize to be awarded in mid-August.

But that news was muted against the grim information presented by Edwards, Kanter and Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, about the burgeoning fourth surge of coronavirus cases since the outbreak began in 2020. 

The number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed each day in Louisiana has been rising for the past four weeks, according to Kanter, while the percentage of tests returning positive topped 6% this week after remaining below 5% since February. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has more than doubled in two weeks, reaching 563 Friday.  

Seeking to encourage vaccination rates, Edwards noted that since February, 97% of the state’s new COVID-19 cases and deaths involved people who are not vaccinated.

Louisiana lags nearly every other state in vaccine distribution. Its vaccination rate per capita exceeds only that of Mississippi and Alabama, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Slightly more than 1.8 million people, 39% of Louisiana’s total population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state health department data. More than 1.6 million people have been fully immunized, 36% of the population. Read the full story.