Several top government officials, including Governor John Bel Edwards, received a shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at a new community vaccination clinic on Tuesday, which officials hope could vaccinate thousands a week while the state competes to immunize a large portion of its residents.
And while COVID-19 numbers are improving in Louisiana, Edwards has extended the state’s current restrictions for another three weeks – keeping many though locked out of indoor service, and most businesses limiting occupancy by 50%.
A new, more transmissible British version of the virus is circulating in the state, with worrying health executives predicting another rise in cases before the state can achieve herd immunity with vaccines.
The governor also noted that although the virus has vanished somewhat in recent weeks, cases and hospitalizations have risen to high levels. He pointed out that Fat Tuesday, which helped the virus stick last year in Louisiana, was approaching.
“It’s still a lot of concern,” Edwards said. “I really hope that the next time we announce a new proclamation, we will be able to ease some of the restrictions if we continue on our current path.”
– Sam Karlin (@samkarlin) February 9, 2021
The governor on Monday expanded the range of people eligible for the vaccine to include people aged 65 and over, with some election staff and first respondents. He empowered the Joint Command Group he led — the emergency response cabinet he led — as well as some other government COVID response officials.
As part of that expansion, Edwards sat down shortly after his press conference and pulled his finger up to receive the first tranche of two injections of Pfizer COVID vaccine. The shot was received at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, a site that opened to eligible individuals on Tuesday.
Replay: John Bel Edwards announces coronavirus vaccination site, latest news on pandemic response
The Blessed Lady, the state’s largest hospital, has placed vaccinations at the main hospital in Essen Lane at the new site, planning to inject about 1,500 people a week, spokesman Ryan Cross said. Eventually, the hospital hopes to move up 7,000 a week.
But it relies on a dose that was found to be irregular in Louisiana and across the country. Edwards said he did not sell a certain number of doses to the Pennington facility because state supplies from the federal government remain uncertain.
He said the Biden administration had told him to expect at least the same dose over the next three weeks as the state had received this week. The federal government also plans to send multiple doses directly to U.S. federally qualified health centers, including in at least one state, although the number of doses was unclear, Edwards added.
Louisiana has injected more people with the COVID-19 vaccine in at least one shot since Tuesday than the number of positive COVID-19 tests since the start of the pandemic, Edwards highlighted a milestone.
Nonetheless, Dr. Joe Kanter, the state health officer, said he did not think Louisiana could see that the number of people infected with COVID-19 and the number of people vaccinated were still dropping the spread of the virus. It is still somewhat unclear how long immunity to the disease lasts, he said, and he has seen Louisiana patients show three times positive results during the epidemic.
Approximately 414,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the state of Louisiana, including 55,492 “probable” cases that were identified by rapid tests. State providers gave at least one vaccination to 448,122 people.
Kanter asked people to vaccinate themselves when it was their turn, even if the COVID-19 test had been positive in the past. The UK version is present in Louisiana in “a much larger number” than the state can confirm, he added.
“There are probably more cases ahead of us,” he said.
In November, the governor took Louisiana back to the amended version of Section 2 of the restrictions, which virtually closed the bars of indoor service and placed most businesses at 50% occupancy. Parishes whose percentage of positive character – the percentage of tests is positive – are below 5% for two weeks can reopen the bars up to 25% indoor service, while all bars have a leisure service.
In Louisiana, a surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations began in November, fueled by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays. Hospital treatments on January 7, at the peak of the latest wave, reached 2069.
The numbers have improved in recent weeks. Hospital care fell to 1122, according to the latest data. Nevertheless, this is higher than the number of hospitalizations when Edwards announced increased restrictions in late November.
Louisiana has posted an average of 941 cases in the past seven days, compared to 3,000 a day for the seven days that ended a month ago.
Meanwhile, the state provided several doses of vaccine this week after about a month of static delivery. The Biden administration sent additional doses, and the state recovered some from a federal partnership aimed at vaccinating residents and staff in nursing homes because many doses were not used.
When Governor Edwards first announced that elderly patients would have access to the vaccine, Walda Gibbs was disappointed on New Year’s Eve. At the age of 68, he was barely below the 70-year threshold. He struggled with lung disease and completed treatments last summer, but his doctor – Catherine O’Neal, a senior infectious disease expert on Our Lady of the Lake – cautioned until she could vaccinate herself.
He tried to get a dose from a pharmacy after hearing that such establishments could receive extra doses for the population at the end of the day, in vain.
On Tuesday, Gibbs scored his first shot in Pennington. He broke up as he thought about the long wait for the vaccine. He hoped to visit his sister, who lived in a nursing home after finishing treatment for lung disease, but his sister died.
“I’ve been waiting because I couldn’t even go to church,” Gibbs said. “People kept asking me if he could come to play the violin, could he come to the church to play? I’m sorry, I can’t do this until I get the vaccine.