New Orleans urges everyone to wear masks indoors as COVID cases increase

Health Dept. chief Dr. Jennifer Avegno: This round of virus really knocks people out
New Orleans Health Department Director Dr.  Jennifer Avegno speaks to the media outside city...
New Orleans Health Department Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno speaks to the media outside city hall about the new surge in COVID cases.(Source: WVUE)
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 5:29 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - COVID cases are rising again in New Orleans and the city is urging everyone to mask indoors and in crowded spaces.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department says the city hopes the new surge in cases does not mirror what happened last summer because of the Delta variant.

“The virus isn’t going away and we’ve got to anticipate future surges but they can be ripples and not tsunamis and that’s what we’re trying to do today,” said Avegno.

The number of cases could be higher than what official counts suggest due to at-home testing.

“In Orleans Parish, as of yesterday our average daily case count is about 155 and that’s about a five times increase from a month ago. We’re still doing a lot of PCR tests daily and that’s what gets reported but we recognize that most individuals are using at-home tests, so we know that total case count is a big underrepresentation of the true burden of disease,” said Avegno.

Wastewater testing serves as a siren of sorts.

“So, we’ve been able to see this coming and predict the rise in cases and mobilize resources more quickly than we have in the past. We’re seeing that rise in wastewater in both our hospitality district and residential areas around the city,” said Avegno.

And now New Orleans’ risk for COVID has increased.

“Our percent positivity has increased and overall rise in the COVID levels in our wastewater testing samples around the city. As of today, we are going to meet the criteria to move from the low-risk category to the medium category according to the CDC metrics. I will caution that when you look at the CDC’s website it’s still going to say low because they only update it once a week but based on our daily number of cases, we are very confident that we’re now in that heightened level of risk,” said Avegno.

She says some cities are higher, in terms of COVID risk.

“We are not the only one, we’ve been tracking this all over the country, New York actually is moving from medium to high risk, and usually as you, if as we’ve ve been through this pandemic they pre-date us by a couple of weeks,” said Avegno.

And so Avegno urges everyone to wear masks indoors.

“We are strongly recommending returning to universal broad indoor masking in public spaces,” said Avegno. “If we as a community can adopt short-term but widespread indoor masking again we can get back to not needing a mask much quicker.”

At Castellon’s Pharmacy people are coming in to get vaccinated and also receive booster shots.

Terry Langlois owns the pharmacy.

“We have been doing a lot of vaccinations. We do the vaccinations three days a week and we average between 15 and 25 a day. Today we probably did over 20,” said Langlois.

And at-home tests are a hot item.

“We’re selling a lot of at-home tests, probably from 40 to 45 a week right now, and that keeps going up,” said Langlois.

Avegno says this new surge is happening when there are more therapeutics including the pill Paxlovid.

“It should always be prescribed by a doctor,” Avegno stated.

With subvariants of the Omicron variant circulating many people who are infected feel the impact.

“I’ve seen this personally, this round of the virus really knocks people out. It’s not benign for a lot of people old and young,” said Avegno.

The city will help people access at-home tests and masks if they are unable to do so on their own.

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