N.O. health department chief updates city council on vaccination rates and response to relaxed mask guidance

Dr. Jennifer Avegno says the burden falls on the unvaccinated
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 6:22 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A week has passed since the CDC issued new mask guidance that says vaccinated people do not have to wear masks.

During the New Orleans City Council’s first meeting since the pandemic began where the public could attend in person, the city’s health department chief updated the council on vaccination rates and how some people are responding to the relaxed mask guidance.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno is the Director of the New Orleans Health Department.

“It was a little bit of a surprise that they put it out last week and so we’re all trying to adjust,” said Avegno.

Like the rest of the nation, New Orleans is operating on an honor system in terms of who is vaccinated and who is not.

“For many of us, like myself, we don’t always know if we’re going to be at a place whether everyone is vaccinated or not and so I and many others, I was really excited to see this around the city this weekend are still choosing to wear masks when we’re in a group of people that we really don’t know their status when I’m at a store,” said Avegno.

She says the new guidance places responsibility on the unvaccinated.

“What this means is that the burden really shifts to you if you have not chosen to get a vaccine. You are now at high risk. If a virus is going to come, you are taking on that risk of a potential, serious outcome. You’re also taking on that risk of spreading it to a child who can’t be vaccinated yet, or a loved one who might have an immune disorder that makes it even more challenging for them to develop immunity,” said Avegno.

City Council President Helena Moreno questioned Avegno about vaccine hesitancy in the community.

“Are there any like statewide surveys kind of pinpointing why some are not able, or maybe not even able, or don’t want to get the vaccine?” asked Moreno.

“There’s probably about 10 to 20% of people who far a variety of reasons will never choose to get the vaccine,” said Avegno. “What we see in New Orleans according to some of the surveys is that there is a pretty sizable group of folks who are not a definite no, but they still have questions.”

And because there is no mandate for people to prove that they have been vaccinated, Avegno is urging the public to cooperate with businesses that continue to require masks.

“If a business chooses to say we still want to require our staff and our customers to wear masks they are absolutely within their right to do so and I’ll tell you I’ve seen lots of signs still up on stores. I am really excited about that,” she said.

Avegno says the city will continue to work to get more people vaccinated.

“What we’re also seeing in those neighborhoods that have low vaccination rates, in many cases that’s where our COVID cases are happening, so the two go hand-in-hand; where vaccination rates are low, we are seeing people continue to get infected and where vaccination rates are high, we’re just not seeing it,” Avegno stated.

She says some areas of the city are doing better than others related to vaccination rates and it is consequential.

“In a community with a vaccination rate of 50, 60, 70 %, that neighborhood is very well protected, that means that even if someone with the virus did come into that neighborhood at a gathering that the rest of the citizens would really be at very low risk of danger,” said Avegno. “If that same person went into a neighborhood where the vaccination rate was only 20% or 30% the burden and the potential for outbreak and disease would be quite high and it would impact our most vulnerable and our young people who can’t get vaccinated, yet.”

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