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Gov. Edwards announces expansion of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility


BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has announced COVID-19 vaccine eligibility will be expanded starting Monday to include teachers and support staff working on-site at K-12 schools as well as at daycare facilities.

The newly expanded eligibility will also include non-emergency medical transportation staff, those who are pregnant, and people 55-64 years old with one or more health condition defined by the CDC.

The full list of people who will be newly eligible starting Monday includes K-12 teachers, administrators and school support staff; those who work at day care centers, early learning facilities and other sites that provide childcare; pregnant women; and people age 55 to 64 who have one of a dozen preexisting conditions. Those conditions include cancer, Type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sickle cell disease, obesity and chronic kidney disease, among others.

Edwards said he widened the availability of the vaccine because the state is seeing an increased supply of doses each week from the federal government.

Click here for more vaccine information from the Louisiana Department of Health, including a full list of who is eligible to receive it.

Teachers had been vocal about frustration they weren’t eligible for the shots — particularly with a national push to reopen schools to in-person instruction, many of Louisiana’s students already back in classrooms for months and Edwards having won his elections with teacher union support. About 64% of Louisiana’s K-12 schools are holding in-person classes and another 15% are offering some onsite instruction, according to state data.

“I’m grateful and relieved to know our early childhood workers, as well as k-12 educators and school staff, now have access to this vaccine,” State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley said in a statement in support of the move shortly after the announcement was made. “This signifies the value of our essential employees and will enable even more Louisiana centers and schools to be fully open to serve students, families and communities. I extend my thanks to Governor Edwards, the Louisiana Department of Health and our state’s medical professionals for working alongside us throughout this pandemic and for making our educational community a priority. Although not perfect, Louisiana has managed to maintain an early childcare system and a k-12 educational program throughout this pandemic.”

The governor made the announcement during a briefing Thursday afternoon with the latest on winter weather conditions across the state as well as an update on the state’s response to COVID-19.

Edwards has asked the White House for a federal disaster declaration because of the icy weather, and shortly after the briefing ended Thursday, he learned that President Biden had approved the request. More than 245,000 state residents did not have water as of Thursday and nearly a million more live in areas where residents have been told to boil water before drinking it or using it for cooking.

Edwards said the Louisiana National Guard currently has more than 960 soldiers and airmen assisting in emergency operations, and that number will increase as additional missions as assigned. They are currently working with GOSHEP to support bulk and bottled water delivery to hospitals, including to Willis Knighton in Shreveport, CHRISTUS in Bossier City, along with additional sites in Oil City and Northwest Louisiana.

Thousands remain without power across the state. SWEPCO says crews are working to restore power to 23,000 customers who lost electricity due to the latest winter storm. More than 4,000 Cleco customers in Red River and Sabine parishes are still without power, and the utility says while they are making progress restoring electricity, some customers may experience new power outages due to an overnight freeze.

“We’ve had a few rolling blackouts the last few days and the biggest issue was no advance notification that they were going to happen, but at the end of the day, these actions were taken in order to prevent a catastrophic failure of this grid,” Edwards said Thursday.

With nearly 60 major road closures around the state and many more open but “very treacherous,” especially in central and northern Louisiana, Edwards implored drivers to stay off the roads.

“Even if shows a road is open, that doesn’t mean you should be out and about.”

Edwards said the Louisiana National Guard is bringing in wreckers and is working with the Louisiana Department of Transportation to remove a number of 18-wheelers that have stopped on the side of the road and in some cases in the middle of it. This has been an issue along I-20 in Northwest Louisiana in particular, and the governor said the situation there “is going to be evolving.”

The Louisiana Department of Health on Wednesday confirmed three deaths related to winter weather this week.

The deaths include a 50-year-old man in Lafayette Parish who slipped on ice and hit his head, a 74-year-old woman in Lafayette Parish who was found in a neighbor’s driveway dead of exposure and a 77-year-old man in Calcasieu Parish who drowned after slipping on ice and falling in a swimming pool.

At least 36 deaths have been attributed to days of severe winter weather in the United States. Traffic accidents have claimed the most lives, followed closely by the carbon monoxide poisoning of people using vehicles or generators to stay warm.

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