Normality seems to be out of reach of the country with the recent surge in Covid-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant, a highly contagious strain of Covid-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Delta variant caused 80 to 87 percent of all US Covid-19 cases in the last two weeks of July. Countries with low vaccination rates are hardest hit by this.
Louisiana, where only 37.3 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, is the fifth-least vaccinated state, but is currently leading the country in an outbreak of new cases after infection rates began to rise in early July.
Daily records keep climbing, and the state reported over 6,000 new cases on Friday. According to a recent update from Baton Rouge General Hospital, which Steve Caparotta received from WAFB, 47 percent of Covid-19 infected patients are in the hospital’s intensive care unit and only 15 of these patients were vaccinated. The hospital said workers are “in the middle of their toughest battle against this virus” this weekend.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards reintroduced the masking mandate for interiors on Monday in response to the worsening crisis. “It has become extremely clear that our current recommendations alone are not strong enough to handle the fourth Covid surge in Louisiana,” Edwards told reporters after the mandate was announced.
During a press conference on Friday, Edwards made a grim assessment: “Today is more likely to be worse than Monday. Unfortunately, the nation’s eyes are on Louisiana right now. “
Although the mask mandate is less than a week old, it has already faced backlash, particularly at a school committee meeting in St. Tammany Ward on Thursday. One parent falsely claimed that their child was prevented from studying because masks cut off oxygen to the brain. The conspiracy theory was debunked by Reuters and other media outlets last year.
As the school year approaches quickly, the safety of Louisiana children is a major concern. There is no approved vaccine for children under the age of 12, and only 15 percent of people ages 12 to 17 in Louisiana are vaccinated, making young people vulnerable. According to Dr. Trey Dunbar, President of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, more than 50 percent of children infected with Covid-19 are in intensive care.
Before the statewide mask mandate was introduced, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education had decided to leave masking decisions to individual schools, and only the New Orleans school district required masks to be worn indoors. The statewide mandate means more children are safe, but it is up to schools to enforce that.
Aside from the mask requirement, schools have the freedom to design their own rules and safety precautions, resulting in different ways in which Covid-19 is handled in education. According to the Jefferson Parish School District Guide, schools largely enforce in-person learning on the K-12, with the exception of high school students who want to take advantage of the flexibility and extra time that the virtual school allows.
This is great for high school students looking to stay home, but for safety reasons the decision is confusing. While high school students are eligible to get vaccinated and therefore would be safer in a personal classroom, children in elementary school are still at risk. The guide also states, “Schools should plan and expect some students / staff to develop COVID-19 during the school year given the level of COVID-19 in our communities.” This is a concern from a public health perspective as it is preventative Measures such as increased access to virtual learning that could reduce the risk of exposure, which the Board suggests, are practically inevitable in classroom teaching.
Making mask compulsory again is a productive step, but since the delta variant is highly transferable, it is not enough. Increasing the number of people vaccinated in the state is the best way to go, but easier said than done in a state where conspiracy theories value more than public health policy to some. Incorrect information about the contents of the vaccine has resulted in some people refusing to be vaccinated. In Shreveport, a city council meeting recently got heated when a woman started protesting the vaccine, claiming that unvaccinated Americans were being unfairly monitored and that vaccinated people could be used for experiments.
These are both false claims, but the harm from this type of rhetoric can contribute to low vaccination rates. According to a study by Donelson Forsyth, a professor at the University of Richmond, resistance to vaccination and masking is concentrated in certain geographic areas due to what is known as “groupthink”. Decisions made by a group and followed en masse prevent individuals from logically analyzing information and considering other alternatives, which could explain why certain states have remained Covid-19 hotspots.
It is important to also look at the bigger picture of the wave of Covid-19 cases in Louisiana. Georgetown University researchers identified the largest concentrations of unvaccinated people in the United States and found that most of these areas are showing increasing cases and examples of the virus mutation that poses a risk to the larger population. Top of that list: Shreveport, Louisiana. “These vulnerable clusters put the entire United States – and to some extent the world – at risk for a return to 2020 as areas of high transmission can become breeding grounds for Covid-19 variants that could bypass Covid-19.” Vaccines ” , wrote Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield of CNN.
While parts of Louisiana pose a risk to the rest of the country, people in the state are also at risk from tourists arriving for vacation. There are currently no travel restrictions in Louisiana, and Americans from the country’s various Covid-19 hotspots are free to enter the state at will. This is particularly worrying because of Louisiana’s proximity to states such as Texas and Mississippi. Amarillo, Texas has one of the largest unvaccinated clusters in the country, while Mississippi’s partial vaccination rate is the lowest in the country at 38.64 percent.
Another new problem, while not as widespread, is the variant of lambda that recently infected people in Louisiana. The first cases of the variant lambda were discovered in Houston, causing health officials to believe the variant virus has spread across the Texas-Louisiana border.
Despite the fact that the CDC warned against non-essential travel for people who are not fully vaccinated, and despite the ever-increasing virus variants, tourism in Louisiana is well underway. The tourism industry typically provides more than 230,000 jobs for Louisians and produces over $ 1 billion in government tax revenue. Prior to the surge in cases from the Delta variant, the tourism industry had approached pre-pandemic levels, which Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser doesn’t want to let go. “We’ll be back to the regulars [tourism] Prices sooner than we thought if we can survive this latest surge without major impact on the tourism industry, ”Nungesser told Louisiana Radio Network in late July.
Nungesser is just one of a group of Louisiana politicians who have contracted Covid-19 since the pandemic began, including MP Clay Higgins, who was infected with Covid-19 for the second time last month.
Elected Congressman Luke Letlow, who held numerous maskless campaign events prior to his election, finally died weeks before he took office last December of the aftermath of Covid-19. He was the first Congressman to die from the virus. His widow, Julie Letlow, was elected to her husband’s seat in a special election in March; She gave an interview with CBS News this week urging voters to get vaccinated.
“My prayer is that another person does not have to lose their life to this virus. It’s a terrible way to get out of this world, ”Letlow said. “We have the answer, let’s use it.”
Public health officials would agree with Julie Letlow. The most effective way to overcome this surge is to increase vaccination rates. An attempt was made to encourage people to do so. In fact, the federal government has given $ 2.3 million in lottery money as an incentive. The Louisians have already started winning payouts while the grand prize of $ 1 million is yet to be awarded.
Those efforts have paid off as vaccination rates in Louisiana have increased three percent since June. But as the state’s big cities prepare for the plethora of upcoming fall festivals – including the JazzFest in New Orleans and the Festivals Acadiens in Lafayette – amid rising Covid-19 cases, a sense of déjà vu is emerging. When the pandemic began to spread in the US in March 2020, Carnival was in full swing and the high concentration of people without enforced safety precautions resulted in a death rate that was once the highest in the world. Like the rest of the country, Louisiana is trying to balance public health advice with wanting a normal life, so the outcome of the current surge in cases is still unclear.