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Chamber, LDH talk ‘COVID in our Culture’

 

LAPLACE — COVID-19 hospitalizations in Louisiana Department of Health Region 3, a seven-parish area including St. John the Baptist, have been on the decline since the week of Jan. 12.

Regional Medical Director Dr. Chip Riggins joined the River Region Chamber of Commerce via Zoom Wednesday morning to update the River Parishes on the latest trend data. Dr. Riggins also provided updates on testing, vaccinations and resource allocation.

During the summer spike of COVID-19 cases in July 2020, the 16-24 age group was seeing the greatest growth in positive cases. Now, in January 2021, Dr. Riggins said the age groups have mostly clustered back together. One exception is that there have been much fewer cases recognized in children under the age of four.

“Because we don’t tend to do a lot of testing on very young children and they don’t tend to develop very serious disease, I don’t think we know what the incidence has been and whether they had mild or asymptomatic infections during this time. They certainly don’t rise to the level of serious illness as much as the other age groups,” Dr. Riggins said.

That doesn’t mean young children are completely safe from the threat of COVID-19 illness.

“One thing that we do see, however, is that a few of them, especially black and brown children, are at risk for a severe complication of COVID-19 called MIS-C. We have had very severe cases, very seriously ill children in our region in this age group of 1 to 4,” he said. “In the next tier when we start talking about the folks eligible for the vaccine, we are anxious to include teachers and workers in daycare centers. We have seen a lot of incidence of COVID-19 in that population, and we think it is being transmitted from the children to their daycare center’s staff.”

COVID-19 data trends in the River Parishes have also displayed some disparity by race, according to Dr. Riggins. Across St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes, the Louisiana Department of Health has recorded 263 African American deaths, as compared to 183 deaths in the white population of the community.

When United Way Director Artis Williams asked about the root causes of disparities by race, Dr. Riggins said possible contributing factors include socioeconomic status, access to healthcare and physical health. The CDC states that conditions such as hypertension, which is more prevalent in African American populations, is linked to more severe COVID-19 illness.

Wednesday’s Zoom session also shared a lot of information on the COVID-19 vaccine.

While the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices advised the CDC to recommend the vaccine for people ages 75 and older, Louisiana amended it to 70 and older based on local fatality statistics.

Dr. Riggins said it would like be a few weeks before the vaccine recommendations expand to include people younger than 70 and those with chronic and co-morbid conditions.

Some participants with the River Region Chamber of Commerce shared that their vulnerable family members have concerns over the safety of the two available vaccines.

“We are very confident in the safety of the vaccines. There’s no live virus. There’s no killed virus. It’s only messenger RNA that’s involved in these vaccines, so they literally cannot cause you to acquire the infection unlike some other vaccines that we use that are actually live virus vaccines,” Dr. Riggins said.

While the vaccines are considered safe from serious adverse events, those who receive the vaccine may experience side effects including local redness and swelling, fever, chills or fatigue. Dr. Riggins said younger people seem more prone to experiencing side effects from COVID-19 vaccination.

According to the CDC, the risk of serious allergic reaction to the Pfizer vaccine is roughly two per million, while the risk of serious allergic reaction with the Moderna vaccine is roughly six per million. Dr. Riggins said people with food allergies can safely take the vaccine. Individuals who have previously experienced anaphylaxis with other injectable vaccines should exercise caution.

Several in the audience asked whether nutritional supplements such as Vitamin C or Vitamin D can build immunity against COVID-19. Dr. Riggins responded that adequate sleep and good nutrition are important to a healthy immune system, but that people should refer to the CDC and the FDA for guidance.

“There are people who would take advantage of our concern right now in unethical ways and promote things that haven’t been studied,” he said. “Do your research carefully.”

The River Region Chamber of Commerce organized the “COVID in our Culture” Zoom call. For more informative RRCC resources, visit riverregionchamber.org or call 985-359-9777.