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COVID in Louisiana: One year later

(AP Graphics)
Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 8:45 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - On March 2, 2020, the state of Louisiana began making preparations for the inevitable. Governor John Bel Edwards addressed the state on preparations in his administration, including a coronavirus task force.

“We want people to be prepared,” he said. “Not only is there no need to panic, that’s exactly the wrong thing to do, but we should all take this seriously.”

One week after the governor’s health warning to Louisiana citizens, the state would receive its first known case of COVID-19. Cases and deaths would escalate into the hundreds and thousands for weeks and months to come. You can see the latest data from the Louisiana Department of Health here.

For some health officials, the one-year mark comes with many mixed emotions.

“People have taken care of each other. People are doing things that ordinarily would not have been done potentially. People are innovating to try to create new things,” said Dr. Julio Figueroa, chief of infectious diseases at LSU Health.

Dr. Figueroa said it’s a monumental moment in science. In less than one year, scientists and other health experts were able to create at least three approved vaccines to help fight the virus. He said in less than one year, frontline health workers have learned so much. But he said there is still a long way to go.

“If you look at sort of the peaks, you know they subsequently get higher and higher,” Figueroa said of the COVID-19 case data from LDH (graph pictured below). “So when we come down, we feel much better because, in fact, it is a lot of reduction; however, if you look at sort of what the baseline is - where the lowest points were in May and the lowest point was in August [or] September versus where we are now, we’re not nearly there yet.”

COVID-19, one year later
COVID-19, one year later(Source: LDH)

Dr. Figueroa, like the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the vaccines available are effective in protecting people against the virus.

“The ability to prevent death and severe disease, and it seems like all of them are pretty comparable in that arena,” said Figueroa.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the organization conducted the largest scale clinical trials of any vaccine, adding what made that possible so quickly was the high amount of disease in the community.

“And the fact that so many people were interested in participating,” she said. “All of the available data shows that these vaccines are safe and are highly effective. Over 100,000 people participated in clinical trials to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines, and they have all met rigorous FDA scientific standards.”

The low points in the data, according to Dr. Figueroa, could be a contribution from the new COVID-19 variants, although that is unclear.

“It may be partly variants. It may be partly - again we have a higher amount of baseline infection which means transmission from person to person,” he said. “So it’s a little bit concerning to me because as we open things up, as we’re doing, then that baseline infection rate that’s going to be out here is going to be higher than we were when we opened up the last time, and we know what happened then.”

Figueroa said as the state and city coronavirus guidelines ease up, he urges citizens to not let their guards down. He said any break in technique - such as not wearing a face mask or abiding by proper social distancing - could increase the risk for transmission. He hopes people continue to practice the safety techniques that we have seen work in slowing the spread of the virus. He also recommends anyone who is eligible to receive the vaccine, get it.

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