Is New Orleans a Super-Spreader Locked in a Mighty Battle With the Delta Variant?

When Teedy (Mayor LaToya Cantrell) issues her new advisory on Thursday suggesting – but not mandating – that vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks indoors and maintain six feet of separation, it reminded us once again of the serious toll the pandemic is still having on our citizens and  the economy. 

Governor John Bel Edwards announced Friday that Louisiana has the fastest growth rise in infections of any state in the nation. This week New Orleans had the third highest number of cases reported in one day since the pandemic began. Ochsner had a 400% increase in hospitalizations. More vaccinated people are coming down with Delta – 2,175 since February. The state of Illinois doesn’t want Louisiana residents coming to their state because our virus numbers are too high.

Between July 20 and 21, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 5,388 new cases. The majority of patients were between the ages of 18 to 39.  During April, May and June the number of people hospitalized remained steady at about 300 per day. Now that number continues to rise sharply every day. Most patients who get severely sick and die are unvaccinated.  

On Friday, July 23, for example, the state health department reported 3,127 new cases; 1008 patients hospitalized, 11 new deaths and 82 patients on ventilators. Almost 513,000 Louisiana citizens have been diagnosed with the virus and almost 11,000 have died.  

Who should be blamed? The thousands of New Orleanians – and Louisiana residents – who have yet to get even one shot. Louisiana ranks in the bottom 12 of states and territories where the number of citizens who have completed their vaccination series falls below 40%. With a population of 4.6 million, 36.4% of Louisiana residents are fully vaccinated and 40.3% have had at least one shot. 

Joining Louisiana in that bottom 12 include North Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. On the other end of the spectrum, the citizens of Vermont enjoy a 67% rate of fully-vaccinated residents and 75% having received at least one shot. Of course Vermont’s statewide population is only 623,989. With herd immunity thought to occur when 75%, of residents have been fully vaccinated, no U.S. state or territory has reached that goal yet. 

The Delta variant releases 1000 times the viral load of prior COVID-19 strains and virus mutations are doing a much better job of binding to human cells. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot as compared to 45% of Republicans. Only 6% of Democrats say they are unlikely to get vaccinated as opposed to 47% of Republicans.

Republicans like Congressman Steve Scalise, who got vaccinated last Sunday at Ochsner, are now tempering their anti-virus rhetoric. Scalise commented that it was “a good time to do it” especially with Delta becoming “a lot more aggressive” and that the shot was “safe and effective.” Scalise also suggested – as many Republican leaders do – that getting the vaccination was a personal choice and that people should not be “shamed into getting it.”

It’s that notion of individual rights and personal choice – as it relates the getting vaccinated – that will have the greatest impact on New Orleans. To a large extent, New Orleans rises and falls on the tourists that make our economy hum. Many of our hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions are not back at full capacity. Starting with the Satchmo Summer Fest in less than two weeks, we have many great festivals and other fall events on the books like French Quarter Festival and Jazz Fest with the Rolling Stones.  

Cruise ships events will be returning in September. Conventions won’t be far behind. If more Louisiana residents don’t get vaccinated, some visitors and conventions might label New Orleans as a super-spreading town and want to keep their distance until we do a better job of getting everyone vaccinated.   

Scalise is correct. The Delta variant is aggressive, especially to those who have not been vaccinated. The vaccine helps save lives. People do have a choice – and that choice should be to get vaccinated.

There are many places in New Orleans to get the shots. They include the Dialysis Clinic, 1661 Canal Street; Christian Unity Baptist Church, 1700 Conti Street; Tulane Medical Center, 1415 Tulane Avenue; University Medical Center, 2000 Canal Street and New Orleans Charter Science & Math High School, 2011 Bienville Street as well as many Walgreens and CVS pharmacies.

I got my vaccination months ago at New Orleans East Hospital. I had been very careful about my interactions with other people but recently let my guard down thinking that COVID was mostly over. Sure enough, I get a text from the state health department advising me that I had come in contact with someone diagnosed with the virus. It was an eye-opener and a sign about how easy it is to come in contact with someone who is sick. Did I encounter that person when I was walking my dog, buying my groceries or attending a public gathering? I had no symptoms but got a fresh COVID test and chilled at home.

Delta won’t be the last mutation that makes it way down the Mississippi. If you haven’t already, get the vaccine; wear a mask even when you don’t want to; and keep six feet apart. It won’t be forever but it will save lives. We’re in a mighty battle with Delta and can’t afford to lose even one more loved one. Stay protected and stay safe!     

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