(The Center Square) – Three cases of a new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Louisiana, state officials said Thursday.
Two of the cases are from the New Orleans region and one is from southwest Louisiana. Another 14 suspected cases of the new variant have been identified but not yet confirmed.
The new strain was first identified in the United Kingdom and could be the dominant version in the United States by March. Pfizer and Moderna say their COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the new strain, but it’s unclear whether this new version carries a higher risk of serious complications.
For now, federal health experts have not recommended that state officials change any of their coronavirus mitigation restrictions in response to new strains, Gov. John Bel Edwards said. Recent spikes in case growth, hospitalizations and the proportion of tests coming back positive have leveled off though the numbers remain too high, officials said.
“The cases are coming down a little bit,” Dr. Joseph Kanter with the Louisiana Department of Health said. “The trajectory is encouraging, but we’re awfully high.”
The federal government plans to send 67,350 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Louisiana next week, up from 58,150 doses this week. Edwards said he expected the state to continue to receive the higher number for at least the next few weeks.
Almost 400,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Louisiana so far, and almost 2,000 vaccine providers have been enrolled in the state program, according to the health department. No more than a few hundred providers have gotten new vaccines to distribute at any one time because of the limited supply.
Federal officials say they will begin giving states three weeks of data about how many doses they can expect to get, which should help with distribution planning, Edwards said. Officials previously were only telling states how many doses they could expect to get the next week.