BATON ROUGE, La. – The COVID-19 Omicron variant is causing more cases nationwide, and Louisiana health officials are reporting COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled in the past week. The last time hospitalizations were this high was mid-October, as the state was in its fourth – and deadliest – surge of the virus, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana joins state health officials in reminding Louisianians to get the COVID-19 vaccine or booster if they are eligible, and for everyone to take precautions against getting or spreading the virus.
“Omicron is a reminder that we don’t know what the COVID-19 pandemic is going to look like long term, which is why it’s important to get vaccinated or boosted and build up your immunity,” said Dr. Deirdre Barfield, Blue Cross senior medical director and vice president of Medical Management.
“We’re still learning about how easily Omicron spreads and how severe it is. The good news is that so far, the vaccines are proving very effective at preventing death, hospitalization and serious illness from COVID-19 caused by Omicron. If you are 5 or older and have not gotten your vaccine yet, now is the time. And if you are 16 or older, get your booster to enhance the protection from your original vaccine,” she said.
This is especially important heading into the New Year, since winter months are the peak season for respiratory illnesses to spread, Dr. Barfield said. “In addition to the vaccines and boosters, it’s extremely important to be mindful of how you interact with other people,” she said. “Avoid large crowds, and try to limit how much time you spend with people who are not part of your household – especially if you aren’t sure of their vaccine status or you have children who are too young to get the vaccine. I know everyone is eager to spend this holiday season with loved ones, but we’re still in the pandemic and need to avoid getting sick or making others sick. The better we can slow the spread, the sooner we can safely get back to the things and the people we love.”
Slowing the Spread
Health officials recommend the following tips to avoid getting or spreading COVID-19 and other infectious diseases like flu, colds or stomach viruses:
• Everyone age 5 and older should get a COVID-19 vaccine and everyone 16 and older should get a COVID-19 booster shot. Blue Cross covers COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots at $0 for eligible members of individual and employer health plans. Eligible members of Medicare and Medicaid plans or uninsured patients also can get a COVID-19 booster or vaccine at no cost. This no-cost coverage is required by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. If you have questions about vaccine coverage on your health plan, contact Customer Service at the number on your member ID card.
You can call the State of Louisiana’s Vaccine Hotline at 1-855-453-0774 for help scheduling a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot appointment. The hotline staff can help you find vaccine locations near you or connect you with clinicians who can answer your vaccine questions. Or, visit the Louisiana Department of Health’s website to see a list of vaccine locations.
The State of Louisiana is offering its Shot for 100 program through the end of December. Anyone age 5 or older who gets the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccine at a participating location can get $100. Visit ShotFor100.com for more information or to see a list of locations.
• Don’t forget your flu shot. Like COVID-19, influenza virus, or flu, is a respiratory illness that spreads most often in winter months. Flu can cause death, hospitalization or severe illness, particularly in older adults, pregnant women and young children. If you have not gotten your flu shot yet, it’s not too late. Anyone six months or older can get a flu shot. Flu shots are widely available in clinics, pharmacies and doctors’ offices statewide, and are covered at very low or no cost on most health plans.
• Mask up when around people you don’t live with. Health officials recommend wearing face masks that cover your nose and mouth when you are indoors and around people who are not part of your household, regardless of your vaccine status. Masks are very effective at preventing virus transmission. Masking up is especially important when in public, crowded areas where you cannot be sure of everyone’s vaccine status and if you’re around children younger than 5 who cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine.
• Limit crowds and keep six feet apart. Social distancing is still important to prevent getting or spreading illnesses to others. Avoid crowded areas or events, and try to keep your in-person activities to people who already live with you. Use virtual methods like video calls or livestreams to connect with others.
• Outdoor events are safer than indoor ones. Generally, you’re less likely to get or spread illnesses while outdoors. If the weather permits, have gatherings with people who are not part of your household in outdoor areas. It’s still important to be mindful of how many people you’re around, even when outdoors.
• If you or your family members feel sick, stay home. If you or anyone in your household has symptoms like sore throat, runny nose, coughing, congestion, fever, vomiting or diarrhea, do not go to others’ homes and don’t invite anyone to come to your home. Get in touch with your healthcare provider as soon as possible to ask about treatment.
Blue Cross Medical Director Dr. Larry Simon shares more healthy holiday tips in this video (:46).
Free Rides to Your COVID-19 Vaccine or Booster
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is sponsoring free ride programs for COVID-19 vaccine and booster appointments statewide. Many community organizations offer similar programs. If you do not have a vehicle, are unable to drive or have other barriers to getting your COVID-19 vaccine, call 211 to get connected to programs in your area.
And, Blue Cross is sponsoring a “Riding Toward Immunity” promotion with Blue Bikes, New Orleans’ bikeshare program. Through Dec. 31, riders can pedal past the pandemic by using the promotional codes SleevesUpNOLA1 and SleevesUpNOLA2 for free, 30-minute trips to and from their COVID-19 vaccine or booster appointments. The Blue Bikes free ride codes are only valid for trips to and from COVID-19 vaccine or booster sites located within the bikeshare program’s service area. Learn more and see a map of Blue Bikes locations at www.BlueBikesNOLA.com or follow Blue Bikes on social media @BlueBikesNOLA.
Visit the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana YouTube channel to see short videos on the COVID-19 vaccines and other health topics. Subscribe to know when new videos are added. You can connect with Blue Cross on social media for regular updates. Blue Cross posts regularly on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and now, TikTok.
For information on what Blue Cross is doing in response to COVID-19, visit www.bcbsla.com/covid19.
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is committed to our mission to improve the health and lives of Louisianians. Founded in New Orleans in 1934, we are a tax-paying nonprofit health insurer with offices in every major region to serve our customers. We were recognized in 2019 and 2020 as an honoree of The Civic 50, named by Points of Light as one of the 50 most community-minded companies in the United States.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. We are a private mutual company, owned by our policyholders, with an independent Louisiana Board of Directors and no shareholders. We invite all Louisianians to visit our website at www.bcbsla.com or talk to us on social media.