U.K. COVID-19 variant increase in Calcasieu prompts warning from health officials

VIDEO: Region 5 Vaccine & Variant Concerns

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) -The quest for COVID-19 herd immunity continues with much of the emphasis on getting people to roll up their sleeves.

Essential workers throughout the state rolled up their sleeves Monday for a shot at the vaccine. The expansion of vaccine eligibility to essential workers followed the announcement made by Gov. John Bel Edwards last week.

During the governor’s briefing, the state’s top health official Dr. Joseph Kanter expressed concern for the Southwest region (Region 5). Concerns range from a recent increase in cases to an alarming presence of the U.K. B.1.1.7 variant in Calcasieu Parish.

”We definitely are trying hard to ramp up the vaccines to combat that variance because the last thing we need here is another spike,” said Region 5 Medical Director Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh.

Since late December, at least 77 suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in region 5 have been linked to the U.K. variant. Dr. Cavanaugh says that there are likely more cases of the variant that go undetected.

SUSPECTED & CONFIRMED B.1.1.7 CASES
REGION CASES
1 22
ORLEANS 18
JEFFERSON 4
2 10
ASCENSION 3
EAST FELICIANA 3
EAST BATON ROUGE 2
IBERVILLE 2
3 1
LAFOURCHE 1
4 8
LAFAYETTE 5
ST. LANDRY 1
IBERIA 1
VERMILLION 1
5 77
CALCASIEU 64
JEFFERSON DAVIS 3
ALLEN 8
CAMERON 1
BEAUREGARD 1
6 2
AVOYELLES 1
RAPIDES 1
7 1
CADDO 1
9 2
LIVINGSTON 1
ST. TAMMANY 1
TOTAL 123

”The CDC predicted that because this strain is more contagious, it is likely to become the dominant strain at some point,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re just kind of first, which is not a good thing in this case.”

Currently Region 5, which covers Southwest Louisiana, has the lowest vaccination rate in the state. Dr. Cavanaugh hopes that changes with the new eligibility expansion to include essential workers.

”It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come, but in order to get to a place where we have herd immunity, then we still have a long way to go,” Cavanaugh said.

Looking at the most recent data, she says Southwest Louisiana has a lot of variables at work.

”Part of that is that we really have difficulty prioritizing health and vaccine right now,” Cavanaugh said. “There are so many pressing issues. Some of it may have to do with how we calculate these numbers. Remember our population shifted substantially after the storms, and these rates are predicted from the 2018 population census.”

She says identifying racial disparities with the vaccine rollout is also a top priority.

”Our outlying parishes don’t have as much of a discrepancy as we do here in Calcasieu. So, we’re certainly focusing on more outreach to those folks.”

The new eligibility group includes food service workers, like restaurant and bar employees, as well as hotel workers. Also included are grocery store workers, people in manufacturing and construction, as well as clergy and bank tellers.

A full list of eligible workers can be found HERE.

Copyright 2021 KPLC. All rights reserved.