The Louisiana Department of Health has announced eight new cases of individuals infected with the COVID-19 omicron variant, although none has required hospitalization.
The new infections bring the state’s known total number of omicron variant cases to 45; five are confirmed and 40 are “probable,” health officials said.
Information is still emerging, health officials said, while stating “multiple mutations” in the virus genome could be significant.
“There is concern that this new variant may be more transmissible than previous strains and that Omicron may carry an increased risk of reinfection compared to other variants of concern,” a Health Department statement said.
Two confirmed cases and 36 probable cases have been detected in the greater New Orleans area, the statement said.
Three probable infections also were detected in Baton Rouge, while single confirmed cases have been found in Acadiana, Northshore and northwest Louisiana.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and State Health Officer Joseph Kanter have urged caution but not panic since the first omicron occurrence was discovered Dec. 3.
“We now know omicron is here in Louisiana,” Kanter said. “We have been expecting and preparing for this moment.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) classified the omicron strain as a “variant of concern” Nov. 26 after it was first found in South Africa. The U.S. designated omicron a variant of concern Dec. 1.
Cases since have been reported in 57 countries and 31 U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We don’t yet know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes or how well available vaccines and medications work against it,” the CDC said. “Despite the increased attention of Omicron, Delta continues to be the main variant circulating in the United States.”
TheLouisiana Department of Health released the state’s latest COVID-19 health statistics Monday on social media.
“Today, LDH reports 1,171 [COVID-19] cases reported to the state since [Dec. 10]. 98.5% of these cases are tied to community spread,” the department said, adding, “199 individuals are hospitalized with COVID across Louisiana.”
The New Orleans area accounted for 29% of the state’s current COVID-19 cases, while the Northshore region was second highest at 14%.
Edwards and Kanter strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccinations as a defense against the virus. They also are attempting to mandate vaccinations for K-12 students, which has been met with stiff bipartisan opposition from state lawmakers and many parents.
Louisiana’s statewide vaccine rate is about 49%, according to the Health Department.
The department said it is closely monitoring the omicron variant and has established a network of laboratories to conduct genome sequencing on positive COVID-19 testing specimens in order to track the strain.
Health officials said they will offer omicron updates on Wednesdays and Fridays beginning this week.