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Children as young as 5 will be required to show proof of COVID vaccination in New Orleans

Priya Lewis and her daughter Anjali, 5, were eager to sign up for a Pfizer COVID-19 shot for kids between the ages of 5-11, November 4, 2021.
Shalina Chatlani
Gulf States Newsroom
Priya Lewis and her daughter Anjali, 5, were eager to sign up for a Pfizer COVID-19 shot for kids between the ages of 5-11, November 4, 2021.

New Orleans’ vaccine mandate, which requires patrons of restaurants and events to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test from the last 72 hours, will expand to children as young as 5 years old starting in 2022, officials said Thursday.

The decision was hinted at in a Tuesday press conference, when officials said “adjustments” to COVID-19 protocols would be made amid a rise in cases due to omicron.

The expansion of the rule begins Jan. 3 and will require children as young as 5 years to have proof of at least one dose. In February, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the rule would again expand to requiring proof of two doses to everyone eligible for a vaccine as well as the negative COVID-19 tests.

“Only 27% of our 5-17 year olds have been fully vaccinated,” Cantrell said during the press conference. “We know that we must do better and we also know that we can do better.”

NOLA-PS Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. followed Cantrell by announcing that the district’s students as young as 5 years old would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by February 1, a request made by the district that was approved by LDH.

Students must be fully vaccinated, but families can get an exemption, Henderson said.

“Being vaccinated is one of the only tools that we have to keep COVID out of our buildings,” Henderson said. “When you are vaccinated, we can also limit the quarantines. It can end the disruptions of learning. What I'm asking today is that we all continue to do our part to return to a normal rhythm.”

Cantrell didn’t bring back the mask mandate, but Dr. Jennifer Avegno said it’s a possibility come Feb. 15, before the height of Carnival season, depending on how cases look at that time. Only in March, if there isn’t an outbreak from Mardi Gras, will officials consider removing the possible mask mandate.

Avegno said they are considering bringing back the mask mandate because of how successful both a vaccine and mask mandate were in keeping transmission rates low after Krewe of Boo, where at least 100,000 revelers were in attendance in late October.

“Under those conditions, we did not see a large outbreak at the event,” Avegno said.

The announcement was made only days after Gov. John Bel Edwards passed the rule, proposed by the Louisiana Department of Health. It’s scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of the 2022 school year and applies only to vaccines that have been fully approved by the FDA. With current FDA approvals, only those ages 16 and older would be required to provide proof of vaccination or a written notice of exemption.

However, the rule could get tied up in court after the State Attorney General Jeff Landry filed a lawsuit on Wednesday evening in response to Edwards passing the requirement despite the state House Health and Welfare Oversight Committee rejecting it in a 13-2 vote.

COVID-19 is also again on the rise. At least 93 cases of the omicron variant have been detected in Louisiana, most of them in Region 1, which includes Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.

Avegno said health experts still don’t know how deadly omicron is, but data is beginning to show just how transmissible the variant is — one that is faster than even delta.

Many of those omicron cases have come from congregate settings, according to the Times-Picayune, including Tulane University, which reported more than 180 positive cases on Dec. 15. The campus’ daily positivity rate that same day was 11.4%.

The university has increased testing due to omicron concerns and the holiday break.

LDH reported 1,025 COVID-19 cases as of Dec. 15, while 2,306,234 of the state’s overall population has been fully vaccinated.

Cantrell said at the end of the press conference that the city will hold another briefing on Mardi Gras next week.

Katelyn Umholtz is the digital editor for WWNO and WRKF and is based out of New Orleans.

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