La. needs more COVID vaccines & data on recipients’ race; Tulane virologist advises wearing thicker masks

Gov. Edwards gives update on state's COVID-19 cases and vaccinations

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Louisiana is seeing progress in terms of the number of new COVID-19 cases, but Gov. John Bel Edwards says more vaccines are desperately needed and a Tulane University scientist thinks people would be well-served by wearing thicker masks given the virus’ mutations.

The novel coronavirus is doing what viruses do: changing.

Dr. Bob Garry is a Tulane virologist and microbiologist.

“Viruses mutate because they don’t have the same mechanisms in place that humans and other animals have to correct their mistakes,” he said.

Still, Garry said the new variants are the virus are not totally predictable.

“No surprise that are new mutations coming up. What was a little surprising was the numbers that came up at once, so some of these new variants actually have more than one mutation and that’s raised some concern but we’re keeping track of it,” Garry stated.

Edwards says Louisiana is seeing some progress in terms of new COVID-19 cases and the number of hospitalizations related to the virus, but he said no one should let their guard down.

“Obviously, we are starting to see some positive signs that we’ve plateaued on this most recent surge, that is gratifying but we remain at a very precarious place because the percent positivity remains in excess of 10 percent across the state. The number of new cases every day is extremely high,” Edwards said.

But he said the new COVID variant could undermine the drop in new cases.

“The problem is, if its more easily transmissible then we know that more people will get COVID-19 and therefore more people will be in the hospital, more people will die than would otherwise be the case,” said Edwards.

Garry was asked if he thinks the current COVID-19 vaccines will need to be tweaked in light of the emerging mutations.

“I think it’s a possibility that we’ll have to tweak the vaccines sometime in the future. That almost inevitably happens. I mean we have to change the flu vaccines every other season or so,” said Garry.

Still, some scientists think because of the new variants more protective masks should be worn.

“Well, I’m one of the people who think we do need to get some better masks out there and maybe the new administration will put some people to work with the Defense Production Act to make some better masks. The best masks are what we call N-95s and if we could get an N-95 on every person and if they used it that would be a big help,” said Garry.

Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Health also want hospitals and pharmacies who are administering the vaccine to do a better job of indicating the race of vaccine recipients. So far, over 50 percent of the people who received the vaccine have been marked as “other” or “unknown.”

Dr. Joseph Kanter also commented on the problem. He said it is important the state receive an accurate picture of who is getting the vaccines. Louisiana developed a health equity task force early on during the pandemic.

“I just want to communicate with providers how important it is for that piece of information because we have no way to track this which is an important measure to track unless we get the good information,” said Kanter.

The race of recipients is needed to determine if the vaccines are being distributed equitably.

LDH also announced the launch of “COVID Defense”, a new app for Google and Android phones. It will allow members of the public to get notifications informing them if they were exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus. Participation is voluntary and the state says it is safe and protected medical information and a person’s location will not be collected.

“Until the majority of the general public has received the COVID vaccine, we cannot let up and will need to lean on every other tool available to us. COVID Defense adds another tool to our toolkit to slow the spread of this dangerous virus,” said Edwards.

Currently, the state has no plans for mass vaccination events.

“We’re not even trying these mass vaccination events in Louisiana yet because in order to resource them with vaccine we would literally have to stockpile vaccine over a period of time,” said Edwards.

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