NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Now is the time to avoid a surge of COVID-19 like the one that overwhelmed area hospitals last summer, the head of the New Orleans health department said Tuesday.
The number of cases is averaging 155 a day, five times higher than a month ago, and sewage testing shows rising coronavirus concentrations in residential and tourist areas, Dr Jennifer Avegno said. She noted that many people are using home testing, so the number of cases “is a big underrepresentation.”
She asked city residents and visitors to mask up in indoor public spaces, get tested if they have been exposed to someone with the disease, and – if so – seek treatment.
“We are not surprised by a summer surge. It’s the third year in a row,” Avegno said in a live press conference. “But none of us want to have the push that we did last year” of the delta variant.
She said the city is not ordering masks and noted that many residents have followed previous recommendations.
“Short-term but widespread indoor masking can go back to not needing masks much faster,” she said.
Testing sewage for the concentration of coronaviruses, new since last summer, allows the city “to see this coming and to predict the increase in cases and to mobilize resources more quickly than in the past,” said Avigno.
“We believe we have time at this point to get ahead” and prevent a surge like the one last July and August “when our hospitals were completely overwhelmed,” Avegno said. “So we’re back to basics – testing, masking, vaccination and now treatment, which is something new.”
Pills to treat COVID-19 are widely available and can significantly reduce the risk of mild to moderate symptoms worsening to the point of hospitalization, but must be taken early and require a doctor’s prescription, she said.
“If you don’t have a doctor or the doctor is not reachable…a fallback can be a test clinic to treat. Make a quick date, get tested, date Paxlovid if that’s right for you,” Avegno said.
The city has only two such clinics, but hopes to have more soon, she said.