Governor Edwards: Vaccine near, but dont let guard down
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With shipments of a coronavirus vaccine likely days away, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday sought to convey hope about a possible end to the outbreak while also stressing the imminent threat of Louisiana’s current virus surge.
The Democratic governor urged more Louisiana residents to take precautions, wear masks and avoid large holiday gatherings — saying the dire reality of COVID-19 will be with the state for months before the vaccine is widely available to everyone.
“We have to do better. While the vaccine will be critical in ending the pandemic, it’s not going to save us now,” Edwards said. “That’s what people need to understand: It’s not going to save us now.”
The governor continued to delve into Louisiana’s vaccine plans, saying the state expects to have enough doses to immunize at least 159,000 hospital employees, EMS workers and people who live and work at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in December.
That’s a significant portion of the 208,000 people in Louisiana eligible to be first in line for shots. Each person will need a second vaccine dose within weeks.
Edwards said Louisiana expects to receive 39,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in its first shipment week and 40,000 vaccines the following week, when it receives federal authorization for emergency use. Louisiana expects to receive 80,000 doses of a second vaccine candidate from Moderna — which could get U.S. approval later this month — in the first week of shipments to states.
The Pfizer doses will go to hospital and EMS workers because of the ultra-cold storage required, Edwards said, while the Moderna vaccines will go to nursing homes, state-run veterans homes and other long-term care facilities.
Still, Edwards cautioned against losing sight of the more imminent risks of infection.
“Let’s make sure that we are primarily focused on what we need to do what right now to save lives,” he said.
Louisiana is in its third surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since the state’s outbreak began in March. More than 13,000 new confirmed of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus have been confirmed by the state health department over the last week, and thousands more cases are considered probable, diagnosed by less certain antigen tests.
More than 6,400 COVID-19 deaths have been confirmed by the health department, including 174 reported over the last seven days. Thirty-three new confirmed deaths were announced Thursday alone.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled since November, with 1,529 people reported in Louisiana hospitals with the disease, a number edging near the height of the state’s last virus spike in July. Intensive care unit beds are running low in several Louisiana regions, and public health experts worry that hospitals will be overwhelmed with more patients than they can handle.
Amid the latest surge, New Orleans is readying to toughen its restrictions.
City health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno said Thursday that an end to indoor bar service and a reduction in the number of people allowed at public gatherings are likely to be announced next week for city residents as hospitals fill and the strain on medical personnel grows. Officials worry about staffing shortages and the increasing physical and mental toll on hospital workers.
Trained in emergency medicine, Avegno described a recent visit to a hospital where she watched doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and others risk exposure to the disease in a futile attempt to save a dying COVID-19 patient. Some broke down in tears after the patient’s death, Avegno said.
“These are seasoned emergency and critical care personnel,” she said. “We do not cry very often — and especially not a number of us all at once.”
She cited multiple possible reasons for the display of emotion, among them “the sheer exhaustion of giving their all for similar patients over and over and over again for the past nine months, coupled with the knowledge that much of this could be prevented with really simple measures.”
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