Gov. Edwards warns U.K. variant of coronavirus could become dominant strain as 2 more cases of variant confirmed in La.

Updated: Jan. 28, 2021 at 5:30 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards warned during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 28 a variant of COVID-19 from the United Kingdom could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March as two more cases of the variant strain were confirmed in Louisiana.

Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) announced Thursday the state’s second and third cases of the variant strain were identified in the Lake Charles and New Orleans areas.

The variant strain of the coronavirus, which originated in the U.K., has been identified in 20 states and transmits faster than the original strain of COVID-19, according to Gov. Edwards.

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The governor said health officials are evaluating 14 other cases in Louisiana to determine if they are the U.K. variant strain. He also warned the variant strain could cause another spike in cases and hospitalizations in the coming months due because spreads faster than the original strain.

LDH Interim Assistant Secretary Dr. Joseph Kanter said the three cases of the U.K. variant strain in Louisiana should be considered “the tip of the iceberg” and it’s likely there are many more cases of the strain in the state.

Health officials have not yet determined all of the side effects of the variant strain or how effective the two federally-approved COVID-19 vaccines are against, Gov. Edwards said.

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Dr. Kanter warned scientists know even less about variant strains of COVID-19 that have originated in Brazil and South Africa. The variant from South Africa was identified for the first time in the U.S. on Thursday in two cases in South Carolina.

Both Dr. Kanter and Gov. Edwards expressed relief that the state’s hospitalizations have decreased steadily since the highest levels of the pandemic at the beginning of January but said the numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are still too high. Gov. Edwards added that Louisiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations were currently three times higher than where they needed to be according to Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force.

Gov. Edwards called the number of deaths reported each day in recent weeks “staggering.” LDH reported 55 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday and 67 deaths on Wednesday, Jan. 27.

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The governor said after speaking with President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday, Jan. 26, Louisiana will receive more than 67,000 additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine next week. He also said the White House will be working to give the state more notice of how many doses of the vaccine it will receive each week. State health officials will now know a given week’s vaccine allotment three weeks out, Gov. Edwards said.

Both the governor and LDH’s interim assistant secretary echoed the importance of residents getting vaccinated when possible.

Dr. Kanter said he was concerned to learn several myths circulating about the vaccine, which deterred some residents who were eligible from getting vaccinated. He said it’s important people trust the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, especially once the state has enough quantities for mass vaccination events.

One popular myth is that messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology is new. Dr. Kanter said that is false and mRNA technology has been used for years in medical treatments. Dr. Kanter explained mRNA treatments have not been used at the volume as that of the COVID-19 vaccine until now.

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Another myth is that you can get COVID-19 from the vaccine. Dr. Kanter explained it takes time for the vaccine to be effective and it’s possible for someone to contract COVID-19 in the days immediately after being vaccinated. However, the vaccine does not give you COVID-19, Dr. Kanter said.

Dr. Kanter said the mRNA component of the vaccine degrades rather quickly and does not become a part of your DNA. There is also zero evidence the vaccine impairs a woman’s fertility, another popular myth, the doctor said. He said women of child-bearing age should “absolutely” receive the vaccine.

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