The northern half of Louisiana has been identified as one of the most vulnerable areas in the United States to a coronavirus outbreak and an area highly susceptible to producing variants, according to a new study by researchers at Georgetown University.
The analysis identified 30 total hotspots around the United States where vaccination is low and the population is high enough for there to be a good chance of interaction.
Of the top five areas where researchers are most confident the risk is high, the zone covering Louisiana – including 29 parishes and Monroe, Alexandria and Shreveport – is the “most significant”, says lead researcher Shweta Bansal, associate professor of biology at Georgetown.
“If I had to rank them, it would actually be the first,” Bansal said.
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The other four clusters extend across the borders of the surrounding states, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
In the last two weeks, four of these states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee – have seen cases increase by about 100%.
Five counties in Arkansas have seen hospital admissions increase by 240% to 950% over the past 14 days. In Missouri, soaring hospital admissions led to the deployment of a federal COVID-19 overvoltage team as open hospital beds became smaller.
While the southeastern United States has some of the lowest vaccination rates, there are many pockets in the country where vaccinations lag behind, such as Dakotas and Nevada, Bansal pointed out. What sets these five pockets apart is the possibility of a meeting that quickly spreads the virus through society.
“People don’t just interact randomly with each other,” Bansal said. “This is not only places with low vaccination coverage, but also an expectation of significant interactions with each other.”
The results show how the concept of herd immunity, where the virus can no longer be spread or mutated because there are not enough unprotected hosts, is of local importance.
“It’s the story of two America. Some hospitals close their COVID wards; some hospitals are opening them up, ”said Charles Stoecker, a vaccine policy expert at Tulane University. “It’s just a completely different experience based on where you are.”
In the 29 identified Louisiana parishes, vaccination rates average approx. 26%, well below the national rate of 47.8%.
In places where vaccination is low and interaction is high, the virus has more chances of mutating into something that can bypass current vaccines.
“Every time it moves from one person to another, it is an opportunity for a new variant to develop,” said Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University. “This is what viruses do. Once they have the opportunity to spread, they will continue to mutate. ”
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Viruses spread by replication. Sometimes an error is made during this replication process, known as a mutation. Most mutations are insignificant. But as often as in the case of the now dominant Delta variant, a mutation makes the virus more successful at infecting cells, and a variant is born.
So far, the vaccines have been a good match for the variants. But the fear is that a future variant will develop properties that make it possible to avoid the vaccine’s protection.
“Tomorrow we may not be so lucky,” Bansal said. “The next variant that emerges may be that our current vaccines are not effective against. It would be like turning the clock back to 2020. ”
The analysis did not take into account how often people in these parishes move around or actually interact, although a future study will measure mobility and provide a clearer picture of how a virus can sweep through a community and the surrounding areas.
The delta variant of COVID-19 has created a new, worrying variant known as delta-plus, which has been identified for the first time on Louisian …
However, given that the delta, the dominant variant in Louisiana and its neighboring states, is more transmissible, and the evidence is growing that previous infection does not protect against it, public health experts suggest that the vaccination rate of the surrounding population be taken into account when assessing personal risk.
“If you are in one of these zones, you may not want to wait for a public health or political authority to make a decision for you,” Hassig said. “It may be a good idea to take relatively easy steps to protect yourself, who wears a mask in public, especially inside.”
Emily Woodruff covers public health for The Times-Picayune | New Orleans attorney as a report for corps member in America.
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