A whole year. Can you believe it? It's been one whole year since the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting our communities and hospitals here in New Orleans and throughout the United States.
Just as we thought things were looking up with the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, mutations of the virus are popping up locally and abroad. These mutations— or variants —of the virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and start infecting people.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, made up of a large family of viruses. Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces. Scientists continue to monitor changes in the virus, including changes to those spikes. These studies are helping us learn more about the new variants to understand their spread, how they are different from existing variants, and how they interact with current therapies, vaccines, and tests.
We caught up with Julio Figueroa, MD, physician lead for the infection prevention programs at LCMC Health and the chief of infectious diseases at LSU Health New Orleans, and John Schieffelin MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine and sections of infectious disease at Tulane University School of Medicine to help answer some of our questions related to the new variant identified in the United States.
Now that the COVID variant has been identified in New Orleans, are there are any new safety measures I should take to reduce my risk of infection?
Keep following the current recommendations. These things include wearing a mask, social distancing, keeping your group sizes small, and getting the vaccine as soon as it is available to you. Because some of the new variants appear to spread more easily, wearing a mask and social distancing have never been more important.
While we all want to celebrate Mardi Gras, this is a year we need to be extra careful of crowds. Avoid any large gatherings and celebrate safely at home.
Who is at highest risk for the new variant?
Because this variant is more contagious it may spread easier from person to person, even if you’re outside. That’s why it’s so important to keep following the safety guidelines. Anyone can get sick from the virus but it can be especially hard on the elderly and other high-risk individuals, so let’s keep continue to our families safe.
I’m eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Should I delay getting it because it may not be as effective against the new variant?
Not at all! Everyone should get vaccinated as soon as possible unless advised otherwise by your doctor. The best defense for slowing the spread of the new variant is getting vaccinated, since it’s still new in the United States. It’s 95% effective against many of the existing variants and can even provide protection if you do get sick, helping you to heal faster.
Hearing about new variants of COVID-19 might be scary, and that’s OK. Keep you and your loved ones safe by following the existing safety guidelines and get vaccinated when it’s your turn. The more we work together towards stopping the spread, the faster we can return to celebrating Mardi Gras as it was meant to be celebrated – with your friends, family, and community.