Commentary

With COVID-19 out of control, New Orleans forced to take drastic steps | Tammy C. Barney

Some Louisiana GOP officials opt for disruption as hospitals face despair

August 18, 2021 6:30 am
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New Orleans is requiring either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to participate in certain indoor activities, including attendance at Saints games. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

These are desperate times that require drastic measures.

New Orleans became the first city in the South Monday to require either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to participate in certain indoor activities that have a higher rate of transmission. San Francisco and New York have issued similar vaccine mandates.

“Unlike this time last year, we have a tool that we didn’t have,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at a recent press conference. “When I think of 2022, I do not want to bring this virus into yet another year.”

With Louisiana’s low immunization rates and the surge of COVID-19 cases overwhelming our hospitals, all our state officials should be willing to take a few drastic measures to stop the spread of the Delta variant. Instead, they are spending too much precious time trying to disrupt the few measures that are in place. 

For instance, the Louisiana Republican Party voted Saturday to condemn Cantrell, a Democrat, for her vaccine mandate and asked the Legislature to reverse the action. Rep. Chuck Owen (R-Rosepine) proposed the resolution, calling the vaccine mandate “a threat to our liberty.”

At a Monday marathon meeting of the House Health and Welfare Committee, Republican members expressed concern that the governor might follow New Orleans’ lead and issue a vaccine mandate. Executive Counsel to the Governor Matthew Block told committee members that Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is not considering a vaccine mandate at this time, but everything remains on the table depending on where the pandemic is heading.

Right now, the pandemic is soaring out of control. Louisiana still has the nation’s highest per capita number of new COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And dozens of unvaccinated people are still dying every day. Our hospitals and our health officials are on the brink of despair.

“No matter where you are in Louisiana…everybody’s ERs are full,” said Dr. Katie O’Neal, associate professor of Clinical Medicine, Infectious Diseases at LSU Health-Baton Rouge campus. “I would, as a person who has medical problems, be nervous about what kind of care you are going to experience if you come into the hospital.”

She added that 50% of the people currently in hospital beds are under 50 and were not vaccinated. “They wouldn’t even be in a bed if they had been vaccinated. Fifty percent of the people wouldn’t be here today. They would be in their houses watching the news, and it would be a much better story if they had received the vaccine.”

Meanwhile back at the health committee hearing, members were still complaining about the governor’s mask mandate. Rep. Raymond Crews (R-Bossier City) wondered why the state was pushing masks when a large part of the state doesn’t want a mask mandate. “When we force things on people that they don’t want to do, it just erodes the power of government.”

Crews thinks the governor’s time would be better spent promoting the importance of taking vitamins and combating underlying health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, that make a person more at risk for severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19.

Even under normal circumstances that would not be a good use of our governor’s time. That’s why we have health professionals, but they cannot focus on preventative measures while they are in the trenches battling a ferocious Delta variant.

The Louisiana Department of Health reports 3,691 new cases, 122 deaths and 3,012 COVID patients in state hospitals. The numbers also show that “those not fully vaccinated” accounted for 91 percent of current COVID hospitalizations.

“We have never been in this time and place in healthcare in my career and most physicians’ careers in this hospital,” O’Neal said during her impassioned plea last week. “The only way to stop this train is to get vaccinated. If we don’t…you will watch unraveling.”

Things have already begun to unravel, and it is clear that our state government is unwilling — or incapable — of stopping it.

Cantrell is not waiting for the state to take action.

“Our people are at their breaking point,” she said. “We have to take action now to protect our people and our economy. Our residents have done the right thing. We are mostly vaccinated, but so many of our neighbors and so many of our visitors are not.”

Everyone enjoys a good time in New Orleans — eating in the fine restaurants, enjoying an adult beverage at a local bar, listening to local bands play or going to a Saints game. Everyone is still welcome to partake in those things.

We want you here and we want you vaccinated,” Cantrell said. “Don’t look for the loophole. Look for your vaccination card and be prepared to show it.”

Drastic but necessary.

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Tammy C. Barney
Tammy C. Barney

Award-winning columnist Tammy Carter Barney earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans before starting her career at The Daily Comet in Thibodaux. She covered city government and education, wrote a column and was the first Black woman to work as the paper's managing editor. She worked at The Times-Picayune as a bureau chief, assistant city editor, TV editor and columnist and while there earned a MBA from Tulane University. She left The Times-Picayune for The Orlando Sentinel, where she served as an editor and wrote a weekly column for the lifestyle section. Her writing has won her multiple awards, including the prestigious Vernon Jarrett Award for Journalistic Excellence for a series of columns on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In addition to writing, Tammy is passionate about quilting and singing with the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Praise Team and Contemporary Choir. She also serves as chair of the New Orleans Human Rights Commission. For 17 years, Tammy was married to the late Keith G. Barney. She has one daughter and one granddaughter.

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