Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards held a Friday press conference in Baton Rouge to discuss COVID-19 and the emerging Omicron variant, which he said has not been discovered in the state so far.
“We haven’t yet detected it in Louisiana; that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t here,” he said.
Edwards urged caution, saying there’s currently a lack of information and the World Health Organization has designated Omicron “a variant of concern.”
“The message we want everyone to take away today is that we want people to be aware and concerned, but not panicked,” said Edwards.
State Health Officer Joseph Kanter added that the Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa last week and has spread to 35 countries and six U.S. states: California, Hawaii, New York, Minnesota and Colorado.
“The presumption is that there are more cases than has been identified,” he said.
Kanter explained that the new variant has 50 mutations, which presents “theoretical concerns.”
“As the days and weeks go on, we will either verify or reject those concerns as more data comes in,” he said.
Edwards said it’s unclear how Omicron will affect PCR and antigen testing, virus transmissibility or symptom virulence. He also said it’s unclear how resistant Omicron is to current COVID-19 vaccines.
Edwards, a strong vaccine proponent, endorsed the Louisiana Department of Health recommendation for all eligible Louisianans to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible, including boosters. The state's vaccination rate is 49%.
Edwards also embraced adding COVID-19 vaccines to the regular schedule of K-12 school immunizations, though the state attorney general had previously threatened to sue the Health Department if it did.
“While I personally think it would be a mistake, it’ll be up to parents to decide whether their kids get vaccinated or not,” Edwards, a Democrat, said Friday.
He told reporters that he hopes to move past school vaccine mandate objections by August in time for the next school year.
Edwards also alluded to his extension of public health emergency powers at the end of November, and brushed off questions about new mask, vaccine and lockdown measures.