Louisiana's first vaccine lottery winners announced amid alarming COVID spike
Louisiana's first vaccine lottery winners were announced Friday amid a spike in the state's COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, prompting an urgent plea from Gov. John Bel Edwards for more people to get the shots.
COVID-19 cases in Louisiana have increased each day for the past 24 days, while the number of hospitalizations have more than doubled to 563 in the past two weeks.
"We're facing a very serious situation," Edwards said. "If you're listening to this today and haven't yet taken your COVID-19 vaccine I would encourage you to do it immediately."
"We're clearly in what is now our fourth (COVID) surge," state public health officer Dr. Joe Kanter said.
Dr. Catherine O'Neal, an infectious disease specialist at Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, said the new delta variant is particularly nasty. Delta is now the dominant variant in Louisiana, accounting for 59% of new cases.
"It's sneaky, it's a beast and it's killing us," O'Neal said. "We're being overwhelmed and it's happening extremely fast.
"If you don't choose the vaccine, you're choosing death."
But Edwards said he's not yet considering reinstituting mandated mitigation measures like public mask requirements.
Louisiana's vaccination rate remains among the lowest in the nation with 39% of the state's population receiving at least one dose compared to the national averge of 56%.
Edwards hopes the lottery and chance to win cash and scholarships will boost the vaccination rate.
Clement Dasalla of New Orleans and Skyla Degrasse of Hammond were selected in the first drawing conducted by the Louisiana Lottery Corporation and overseen by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
Dasalla, 80, won the first of four $100,000 cash prizes. Degrasse, 17, won the first of nine $100,000 scholarships.
Any Louisiana resident who has received or will receive at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab is eligible for the remaining lottery prizes.
Vaccinated Louisianans can register online at shotatamillion.com or by calling 1-877-356-1511.
Louisiana is using federal COVID relief revenue to fund the vaccine lottery.
The state's first of four weekly drawings for $100,000 cash prizes for adults 18 and older and $100,000 cash scholarships for youths 12-17 actually took place Wednesday, but the state had to verify their residency and vaccination record.
Drawings will continue to be held on Wednesdays with winners announced on Friday during the first four weeks.
The $1 million grand prize cash drawing for adults will be held on Aug. 4 with the winner announced on Aug. 13, while five $100,000 drawings for college scholarships will be held for youths on Aug. 4.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.