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State to expand vaccination eligibility

Friday, February 5, 2021

Louisianans who are age 65 to 69 will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations beginning Monday.

But how quickly they can get their shots still depends on the amount of vaccine the state receives each week, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday. That amount is expected to increase by thousands of doses next week as the state rolls out a new partnership with Walmart pharmacies statewide.

The Ruston Walmart is not on the initial list of 57 partnering pharmacies.

The eligibility expansion came as state officials warned anew about the encroaching U.K. variant of the novel coronavirus and urged Louisianans to refrain from gathering for Super Bowl parties this weekend and forego large-scale Mardi Gras celebrations.

“I’m asking everyone to double down, individually and collectively, so we don’t have another surge,” Edwards said during his weekly press conference.

The governor did not indicate whether Louisiana will remain in the modified Phase Two COVID mitigation when the current order expires on Wednesday.

Despite a drop in new cases of the virus and related hospitalizations, “the baseline is still very, very high,” Edwards said.

Louisiana has now surpassed 9,000 deaths related to COVID-19; 1,000 of those occurred over the last three weeks.

Edwards attributed the spike to travel and gatherings related to Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Officials say the death count — something Edwards calls a “lagging indicator” — will continue to increase over the next few months.

Meantime, Dr. Joe Kanter, Louisiana’s chief health officer, said the state should leverage the gains it’s made against the spread of the current coronavirus strain and prepare for yet another spike as the more contagious U.K. variant spreads.

“We’re going in the right direction now, so we need to gain as many yards as possible,” Kanter said.

So far, five cases of the variant have been confirmed in Louisiana. An additional 20 cases are pending confirmation, Kanter said.