Louisiana is experiencing a widespread increase in the spread of COVID-19, according to recent data from the Louisiana Department of Health. Those who are not yet vaccinated are at an elevated risk as the more contagious Delta variant continues to spread.
Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, Office of Public Health Region 5 medical director, said Southwest Louisiana is trending upward, as well, though at a slower pace than larger metropolitan areas.
"We haven’t seen as much of a dramatic increase. That is true. But we are increasing," she said. "I don’t want people to feel like this is just Baton Rouge and New Orleans and that it’s not a real threat. We’re seeing increases too but not quite as steep.”
Southwest Louisiana began seeing increases in its number of cases about two weeks ago, Cavanaugh said. Public health officials were initially unsure if the increase would be long-term “but it has definitely continued on the increasing trend.”
Federal health officials have confirmed that the predominant strain circulating is the Delta variant.
“And of course, the Delta variant is more transmissible,” she added.
According to the department’s community risk maps, Southeast Louisiana parishes are experiencing the greatest increases in cases.
“But people within the state obviously travel back and forth between the regions,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re not closed off.”
The statewide increase is particularly concerning for Southwest Louisiana because of its lower overall percentage of people who are vaccinated, she added.
“All the data is pointing to the fact that we are as much or at greater risk for a similar increase.”
The best weapon against COVID-19 is the vaccine, she said.
“A year ago we did not have that luxury. But it’s probably one of the easiest, quickest ways to protect yourself. We know the vaccines are safe and effective. They have good effectiveness against the Delta variant.”
Individuals who have had COVID-19 in the past should not assume they have “natural immunity” from future infection, she said.
“People who had COVID a year ago, this is a new strain. We are definitely seeing re-infection. We think the vaccine is going to be superior protection, so get vaccinated.”
For individuals who choose not to get vaccinated, the same techniques employed prior to the release of the vaccine should be used to prevent the spread.
“Stay away from crowded settings, masking, social distancing and hand washing— those basic things we know control the spread. Going back to some of those things will definitely help us control the spread.”
The one positive side to the increase is that the vaccine is “performing very well,” Cavanaugh said. “Most of the cases we are seeing are in unvaccinated people. I don’t want people who are vaccinated to feel like they’re bulletproof or that it’s impossible for them to get COVID, but the guidance say they can worry a lot less.”