Louisiana well being consultants warn of coming COVID surge, say now’s time to organize for omicron | Coronavirus

A year after Louisiana began rollout of coronavirus vaccines, many of which were hoping to end the pandemic, the Omicron variant has sparked new concerns among health professionals in the area.

Omicron cases have been discovered in several parts of the state, including New Orleans and Tulane University, where school officials have reintroduced mask requirements and optional distance learning.

While COVID cases in Louisiana are still very low compared to recent pandemic waves, they have started to tick higher. And while scientists around the world work to determine the severity of the Omicron variant, public health professionals say it is time to prepare for what may be the next wave of the pandemic before it spreads wildly and again Hospitals in the area are filling.

“We have the ability to blunt this bump,” said Dr. Lucio Miele, the director of the LSU Health New Orleans Precision Medicine Laboratory. “It’s a matter of the choices each of us makes.”

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Tulane University officials confirmed a likely case of the Omicron variant in a graduate student and placed a campus-wide indoor mask mask.

Miele said he wasn’t surprised to find Omicron’s cases two and three in his lab last week. He expects more Wednesday as the results of the sampling come in and is already encouraging people to get vaccinated, get a booster shot, wear masks in crowded places, and increase testing and social distancing.

Researchers say it is clear that Omicron is highly contagious and that while vaccines reduce the severity of the virus, they are not as effective at preventing infection. Studies of outbreaks in South Africa and the UK, where the variant is spreading rapidly, have not yet confirmed whether it leads to milder cases overall.

The highly mutated variant attracted international attention around Thanksgiving, when researchers in South Africa reported a rapidly growing number of cases. The UK, which has one of the most thorough surveillance programs in the world, has reported that cases have more than doubled every three days in the past few weeks.

Virus outbreak UK

A Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be prepared on Friday December 3, 2021 at St. Charles’ Center for Health and Wellbeing in London. Britain says it will offer a booster vaccination to all adults within two months to protect the nation’s immunity as new Omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads. In England, new measures went into effect on Tuesday to combat variants that once again make face coverings mandatory in shops and public transport. (AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth)

“We’ll find out more about what to expect,” said Dr. Julio Figueroa, Head of Infectious Diseases at LSU Health New Orleans. However, studies are already showing it’s more transmissible than Delta, the variant that rocketed cases and hospital stays in Louisiana this summer.

The new variant accounted for around 3% of the sequenced Covid-19 cases in the US in the week ending December 11, compared to 0.4% the week before. During a briefing Tuesday, senior federal health officials predicted a spike in January that will put another strain on hospitals’ capacity to care for patients, both COVID and others.

What has worried health professionals most in a state like Louisiana, where 50% of the population is fully vaccinated, compared to 61% in the country, is that prior infection called “natural immunity” doesn’t seem as effective against omicron.

“Given that we have so many unvaccinated people in Louisiana, even if they were previously naturally exposed to the delta, the South African data suggests it does not offer protection,” said Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University .

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Louisiana also tends to have a sicker population, with many people suffering from obesity, diabetes, and heart disease – all of which are at higher risk for serious complications.

But with both Omicron and Delta Fuel outbreaks erupting overseas, Louisiana could be in a better position to stop any further surge as cases are so low right now.

On Tuesday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported that 198 people were hospitalized for COVID, which was its lowest level since the pandemic began and well below the delta surge peak of 3,022 in mid-August. In the past seven days, the state has reported 2,382 new infections, 40% more than last month but still well below the nearly 30,000 counted in a week at the height of the Delta Wave.

“We are in a somewhat better position in the south,” said Hassig, pointing out that states in the northeast and midwest could soon struggle with both delta and omicron eruptions. “We have a little more freeboard.”

It is unclear what percentage of COVID cases Omicron currently accounts for in Louisiana, where 45 cases of Omicron have been identified as of December 3.

There are now some hopeful signs around boosters and their effectiveness against the new variant. Pfizer said a third shot of its vaccine increased antibody protection against Omicron by 25 times compared to two doses.

And a study published Tuesday from South Africa found that while Omicron reduced the two-dose ability of the Pfizer vaccine to prevent infection for Delta from 80% to 33%, its effect on hospital stays was less of concern and 93% dropped to 70%.

But death and hospitalization aren’t the only bad outcomes. About every third person infected with COVID has long-term health problems, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s not just about getting infected with COVID and dying or not dying,” said Miele. “It’s about the long-term risk of COVID.”

Hassig pointed out that mask requirements and other steps to slow the spread of the virus have always been slow, as cases are already on the rise.

Now it is time to reintroduce a mask mandate, she said.

Officials from New York and California said both states will enforce state-wide regulations on internal masks this week.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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