‘It’s not the time to panic’ but beware of omicron variant, Louisiana health official says

Latest COVID-19 variant hasn’t yet appeared in state

By: - December 3, 2021 2:21 pm
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Coronavirus COVID-19 computer generated image. (Getty Images)

Three days out of hurricane season in Louisiana, State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter described the recently discovered omicron variant’s potential impact as “a storm that is out in the Gulf.”

“You don’t know exactly where it’s gonna go. You don’t know exactly how strong it’s going to be when it gets there,” Kanter said. “But you’re paying attention and you’re probably preparing.”

Omicron, the new variant of COVID-19, has rapidly spread through multiple countries around the world over the past week, including five states.

“It’s not the time to panic, but it is time to be paying attention and perhaps take a couple precautions,” Kanter said.

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There haven’t been any detected cases of the omicron variant in Louisiana, but Gov. John Bel Edwards said that doesn’t mean the variant is not yet here. As of Friday, virtually 100% of the state’s COVID-19 cases are attributable to the Delta variant, he said.

The most effective way that Louisianians can take precautions against omicron is by getting vaccinated against COVID-19, officials said.

Just under half of Louisiana’s population is fully vaccinated — including 22% of residents that have also received the booster shot — as of Dec. 3. People are eligible for the booster shot six months after getting fully vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna, or two months out after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Over the past six weeks, about 2,000 Louisianians per day have gotten their first COVID-19 shot. 

“I want that number to be much higher,” Kanter said. “I guess I’m somewhat thankful it’s not lower than that.”

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The omicron variant was first identified in South Africa on Nov. 24, and the first case in the United States was found on Dec. 1 by a resident in San Francisco who had recently traveled to South Africa, according to the CDC. Cases of the variant have been found in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota and New York.

There are hypothetical concerns that the omicron variant is more transmissible and is less resistant to the vaccine, but Kanter said it’s too early to tell if those concerns are valid or not.

Edwards said it’s premature to speculate whether a rise in cases from omicron will force the governor to enact stricter COVID-19 restrictions as he did during the Delta surge in August, but “everything is on the table.”

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.

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