Blue Cross urges Louisianians to mask up, get vaccinated as new school year gets underway

Published 8:59 am Friday, August 6, 2021

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This week, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a statewide mask mandate aimed at curbing Louisiana’s fourth surge of COVID-19. The surge is fueled by the combination of the widespread Delta variant, which is more infectious than earlier forms of the virus, and the state’s below-average vaccination rate.

To stop the spread of COVID-19 and avoid overwhelming healthcare facilities, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana urges everyone to comply with the mask mandate, which requires anyone age 5 or older to wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth in indoor, public places. This includes stores, groceries, government buildings, healthcare facilities and K-12 schools. The insurer encourages Louisianians ages 12 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they have not already, or ask their healthcare providers for guidance if they are hesitant.

Dr. Tracy Lemelle, a pediatrician who is one of Blue Cross’ medical directors, said masking up and getting more people vaccinated will be important for lowering the risk of COVID-19 as a new school year starts. Most Louisiana school districts begin in-person classes this month.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is available to anyone 12 and older, and it offers the most effective protection against the virus,” Lemelle said. “But, schools are group settings with high numbers of children who are too young to get the vaccine. That’s why it is important we all take steps to slow the spread — this will keep families safe and lower everyone’s risks from COVID-19.”

In June, a group of leading doctors, nurses and U.S. public health officials issued a statement encouraging everyone 12 and older to get vaccinated if they have not already because any potential risks from vaccination are low while the risks from getting COVID-19 are high, and vaccines are effective protection against the virus.

Lemelle said parents of adolescents and teens should talk to their child’s healthcare provider about any COVID-19 vaccine concerns or hesitations they have.

“It is understandable to want to know what’s best for your child, and your pediatrician is there to help you make that important decision based on your family situation and your child’s medical history,” Lemelle said. “Have that conversation with your healthcare provider — do not just avoid the vaccine out of fear or based on things you’re hearing from others that may not be true.”

For those who have children younger than 12, Lemelle suggested asking their healthcare providers about the best way to keep them healthy, especially if they are heading back to the classroom or resuming group activities like sports and clubs.

“We know from the past year that face masks are very effective at preventing us from spreading COVID-19 to others,” Lemelle said. “When your family is in indoor places with lots of people, mask up. Even those of us who are vaccinated can still carry the virus, so face masks are very important to stop the spread.”

In addition to the COVID-19 surge, children’s healthcare facilities in Louisiana are reporting higher-than-usual cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). This is a respiratory illness that mainly affects babies and young children. RSV cases usually peak in winter months, but healthcare providers are seeing lots of cases this summer.

Lemelle said the good news is that the same steps we take to prevent getting or spreading COVID-19 are also very effective at preventing RSV.

“Wear a face mask that covers your nose and mouth when in public, stay at least six feet away from others and wash your hands often to prevent germs,” Lemelle said. “And, most importantly — if your child or anyone in the family has symptoms like cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever or congestion, stay home so you don’t spread illness to others. Get in touch with your healthcare provider’s office as soon as you can and ask when and where you should come in for treatment.”

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For information on what Blue Cross is doing in response to COVID-19, visit online at