BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards held a COVID-19 press conference on Friday to give an update on the state's response to the ongoing pandemic.
Edwards opened with remarks about the inauguration of President Joe Biden. He says he is ready to work in good faith the new administration. They have been busy reviewing the actions of the new administration concerning COVID.
Part of the new administrations work was creating a Health Equity task force has been created. In April of last year, Louisiana created their own task force.
Edwards says that he will be looking at the federal government to make sure that what they do helps Louisiana but they are also willing to share what they have learned since beginning the task force last year.
The group is meeting on Friday to discuss their continued work.
On Friday, Edwards announced 1,937 new cases with 41 new deaths. 1, 747 patient are hospitalized. See the full breakdown here.
Edwards says there are positive signs that the state has plateaued. The positivity is in excess of 10 percent across the state.
The state is also at a high level of hospitalizations. That has since lowered from an high just two weeks ago.
Edwards says he believes they are seeing the development of a trend downwards. He urges Louisianans continue to follow mitigation measures to continue that trend.
Dr. Joseph Kanter with the Louisiana Department of Health reiterated that the plateau was being noticed, but says that percent positivity in the state is 10.3 percent.
"Transmission is still very high and the danger is still there," he said.
UK variant in Louisiana
Louisiana reported the new UK variant in the state last week. He says that it appears that this variant is more transmissible but not more severe. Edwards says that it should respond to vaccines. His worry is that with the variant being more transmissible, it could be spread at a faster rate.
There are also variants found in Brazil and South America, Edwards said, those have not been detected in the US or in Louisiana.
Kanter says that the two vaccines should be able to take care of the new variant but transmissions will most likely rise as the variant spreads through the state.
As of Thursday, 301,316 doses of the COVID vaccine have been administered. The CDC says that Louisiana is 10th among all states for vaccine administration to residents.
"We are certainly not satisfied where we are," Edwards said. "We have been flat on vaccine allocations for the past weeks. It has been slower than we would like."
A number of organizations in the state, including hospitals, pharmacies and state agencies are continuing to work on vaccination roll-out.
"People who are hesitant about the vaccine is decreasing," he said. "It is good to see more and more people vaccinated."
Edwards says the state is planning and preparing to vaccinate more and more people. The next vaccine could come online and be ready for administration in March.
The Johnson and Johnson single dose vaccine would be the third vaccine in use for COVID-19.
Around 29, 000 Pfizer and around 28,900 Moderna vaccines have been allocated this week. Edwards stated that it is the same doses allocated to the state as last week.
The vaccine orders are what the federal government is allocating to the state.
Kanter says that the numbers are based on population.
The state has not begun trying mass vaccination sites due to limited number of vaccines.
"We would be holding back vaccines to do a mass vaccination event," the governor said.
Edwards said that doing a mass vaccination event would actually slow down the vaccine distribution in Louisiana. Some hospitals have already begun large vaccine events when possible.
"Once we have enough supplies we should be doing mass events but also continue giving to small providers," Kanter said.
He says he wants to get to number 1 on the CDC list for vaccine distribution.
LDH adding new data to its dashboard
Users who watch the daily update of COVID-19 in Louisiana from the LDH webstie will now be able to see the number of doses administered and who is getting the vaccine based on gender, race, age.
"We want to be as transparent as we can be with the people of Louisiana," Edwards said
Currently, some percentages for race are not accurate. Edwards says that 55 or 56 percent of the race category is unknown. Providers will be asked to submit accurate information so it is clearer for those viewing the dashboard.
Kanter says because of the differing patient data systems from different providers the race data has not been accurate.
"We will be making sure that information is better represented going forward," he said.
More pharmacies are being actively enrolled as vaccine providers. Around 2,000 providers have now been enrolled. The vaccine is shipped directly to those providers and each parish is covered.
Louisiana will send in teams to administer vaccines in areas that need more vaccination help. That will be coming in the near future. Those teams would be sent out in coordination with parish governments.
COVID Defense APP
LDH announce a new app that will help users know if there are at risk for COVID transmission.
Kanter says that a push notice will push to users if they come in contact with a person who is also using the program that is positive for the virus. It is an anonymous communication to let users know when positive people are around them.
"This is going to be helpful," he said. "It is completely voluntary. If you don't download the app, nothing happens."
Kanter says it is just an added protection for those that wish to use the new app.
According to the website for the app, COVID Defense is a smartphone app that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to quickly notify users who have likely been exposed so you can reduce the risk of infection for your friends and family and help Louisiana stop the spread.
The app doesn’t collect personal information or track your location, but functions as an anonymous detector for potential exposures to COVID-19.
The app is free, voluntary and completely anonymous. Available at COVIDDEFENSELA.com
Edwards says that there are unprecedented numbers of people filling out unemployment claims. There are also new forms from federal government, which now requires identification of claims.
To combat fraudulent claims, the process is taking longer for those filing for unemployment each week. 60,000 claims were found to be fraudulent.
Last week 22,000 new claims were completed and $88 million paid out on those claims.
They are pulling more and more people to get through the claims that are being filed. Louisiana was recognized at #1 in the country for timely benefits payments.
"We have a lot of people waiting longer than they should, and we are working to do better," Edwards said
This was the governor's first media briefing since President Joe Biden took office on Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Following his inauguration, President Biden issued his National Strategy for COVID-19 response. The plan calls for increased vaccination efforts and requires that masks be worn on federal property and on all forms of public transportation.
In his order, the president called on governors to implement masking, physical distancing and CDC public measures to control COVID-19. It is unclear if the new measures will affect Louisiana's current response to the ongoing pandemic.
Read the President's full strategy, here
You can watch the governor's full briefing below:
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