CAVANAUGH: New variant spreading quickly

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, December 22, 2021

By John Guidroz
American Press

The swift spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant is being seen throughout Louisiana, with new positive cases on the rise.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates the omicron variant accounts for 73 percent of new COVID-19 cases nationwide. Lacey Cavanaugh, Region 5 Office of Public Health medical director, said Tuesday that omicron has many unanswered questions, such as how severe it is, how a person’s immune system will respond and how effective monoclonal antibody treatment will be.

“There’s no doubt we are at the start of another surge,” she said. “We don’t know how bad it’s going to get. “It’s the rate of the rise we’re more concerned about than the absolute number.”

Data released Tuesday by the Louisiana Department of Health shows Calcasieu, Beauregard and Jeff Davis parishes as having a moderate community risk. The COVID-19 risk in Allen Parish is listed as substantial, while Cameron Parish is listed as having a high risk.

Statewide, the department reported 1,729 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, up from 1,025 cases reported just four days earlier. More than 260 patients are hospitalized statewide, a jump from roughly 200 last week, but far short of the 3,200 hospitalizations back in August.

This latest anticipated surge comes just days before the Christmas holiday. Cavanaugh said that while holiday gatherings can happen, residents should be very cautious and use common sense.

“People should use all the mitigation tools, however tired we are of them,” she said. “This variant is a fast spreader.”

State health department data shows that 80 percent of the new COVID-19 cases, 74 percent of deaths and 79 percent of hospitalizations reported from Dec. 2-8 were residents who were not fully vaccinated. Region 5, which covers Southwest Louisiana, has the lowest vaccination rate in the state, at just over 37 percent. The nearest is Region 8 in northeastern Louisiana, with 40.9 percent.

Cavanaugh said vaccines and boosters can help prevent severe illness associated with COVID-19.

“I highly encourage residents who haven’t gotten the booster to get it, or start the vaccination series,” she said. “It will lessen the strain on hospitals.”

Cavanaugh also recommended residents get a COVID-19 test if they plan on spending time with friends and family over the holiday weekend.

There are more lines of defense against COVID-19 compared to the start of the pandemic. Still, Cavanaugh said she understands the mental toll it has taken on health care workers and the public.

“It seems to be never-ending,” she said. “It is a challenge for everyone just to create that brain space yet again when we had a couple of months where things seemed to be getting back to normal. It’s sort of a rollercoaster.”