By Danae Columbus, opinion columnist
While New Orleanians are currently enjoying glorious fall weather and the loosening of mask mandates, don’t think for one minute that the next wave of the virus won’t be heading this way with the cooler temperatures and the influx of tourists during the holiday season.
Stubborn unvaccinated people continue to spread Covid-19 around the world. Every day, more than 1,000 Americans are still dying from the disease. Only three out of five U.S. residents are fully vaccinated against the virus. And only 15% of those eligible have gotten a booster shot.
Louisiana still has a relatively low vaccination rate as compared to many other states. It will also be difficult to assess the vaccination status of visitors who will descend on the Crescent City for Thanksgiving and the Bayou Classic. Though the unvaccinated are more likely to become ill and die, breakthrough cases are not unheard of — especially among those who have not received a booster shot.
In an interview Wednesday with NBC News, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, said: “What we’re starting to see now is an uptick in hospitalizations among people who’ve been vaccinated but not boostered. It’s a signification proportion, but not the majority by any means.” Studies show that immunity wanes six months or more after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and two months after the Johnson and Johnson dose. The FDA is expected to authorize booster shots for every American – or at least those over the age of 30 – by tomorrow.
When Covid was raging in the United States earlier this year, most Western European nations were witnessing a hiatus. Vaccines are not as readily available in some countries, especially in Eastern Europe. Low vaccinations rates have caused huge case spikes in countries like Romania.
Almost 90 people died of Covid-19 in Greece just yesterday. A third of Greece’s new cases were identified in Athens and the surrounding suburbs, where tourism has started to return. The population of Greece is a little more than twice that of Louisiana.
A country once praised for its Covid-19 response, Germany set another record yesterday for new cases in one day – more than 50,000. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that a fourth wave was hitting with “full force.” The government will meet next week to consider new restrictions for unvaccinated people. Cases are also surging in Ireland and Slovakia.
Partial lockdowns have been reintroduced in the Netherlands and Austria. With the global economy in full swing, this new wave of infections is headed across the ocean and will eventually hit New Orleans.
According to The New York Times, case counts (per 100,000 people) are starting to rise in the U.S. led by “deteriorating conditions” in the Upper Midwest and ongoing high infection rates in the West. Where winter has already set in, states like Michigan and Minnesota have seen daily caseloads increase by more than 60% in the last two weeks. Wisconsin and North Dakota are not far behind.
In the Northeast, where vaccination rates are high, case rates had remained low but are picking up in Rhode Island and Maine. Vermont and New Hampshire have already been experiencing an uptick. Other states in which daily case rates have risen substantially include New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Illinois.
Infection rates are climbing again even in the South, where cases were higher during the summer and later tapered off. During the past two weeks, the number of cases are up 21% in Louisiana, 26% in Arkansas, 14% in Tennessee and 9% in Mississippi.
Since vaccines for young children were authorized, across all age groups almost 1.4 million new doses are being administered each day. Vaccines and booster shots won’t eliminate Covid-19 but could prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death.
The Louisiana Department of Health reported 625 new Covid-19 cases yesterday and 16 new deaths. Most new cases — about 97% — were tied to community spread. Those not fully vaccinated account for 82% of new cases, 77% of new deaths and 85% of new hospitalizations. Almost half of Louisiana’s population has been fully vaccinated, and 54% have received at least one dose. More than 5 million doses have been administered in the state. Close to 15,000 Louisiana residents have died from Covid-19.
The LDH encourages eligible citizens 18 and older who have completed their two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series six or more months ago or who received their one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine two or more months ago to get the booster shot without delay.
“We have made significant progress in slowing the spread of Covid in Louisiana, which is why as we head into the holidays we want to give people the opportunity to increase their protection by getting boosters as soon as they become eligible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted yesterday.
The e’sstat “Shot for $100” program is still available for people who still have not received their first dose. For a list where you can get a Shot for $100, see here.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at email@example.com.