Felicianas are poster children for the various fronts in the battle against COVID-19. On the vaccination front, West Feliciana Parish leads the state and stands out in the nation for high percentages of partially and fully vaccinated residents. East Feliciana Parish is home to the state’s third federally-supported monoclonal antibody therapy treatment site chosen for a mobile or community-based setting.
The antibody infusion site located outside the Clinton Alternative Learning Center on Plank Road stands out because, unlike prior distribution, the mobile sites are not hospital or clinic-based and bring the antibody treatments to the backyard of many rural communities.
More than 4,400 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in East Feliciana Parish, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and U.S. Census Bureau, but in the first two weeks of operation, the trend of people dying from COVID-19 complications is on a downward trend.
East Feliciana Parish Manager Jody Moreau is encouraged to have this new tool in the parish arsenal. “We do not have many of the accommodations that our larger neighbors have in regard to supporting these types of efforts but when we can get help, we will do what is right,” Moreau said. “All of our Police Jurors are 100% behind supporting this site because it will save lives and help get all of us through this terrible pandemic faster.”
Moreau’s counterpart in West Feliciana Parish celebrated a vaccination victory against COVID-19 that put national eyes on the efforts in his parish. Parish President Kenny Havard was lighting up social media the night of Sept. 16 to announce that the parish, for a period, moved to the “moderate risk” category for community transmission of the virus, a distinction held by only 2% of the nation’s counties/parishes.
The figures speak of vaccines and medical intervention, but Havard acknowledged the team mentality in addressing his constituents.
“I want to personally thank every citizen in this parish,” he said. “Please continue to take proper precautions to protect you and the people around you. We do not all agree all the time, but we always pull together to make West Feliciana proud.”
More positive cases have caused fluctuations in the community transmission levels but the high vaccinations rates in West Feliciana Parish have reduced serious complications and kept the death rate of 39 from rising. The CDC and The New York Times trackers plot similar figures for the percentage of residents fully vaccinated: 79% of all residents; 89% of those 12 years old and older; and 99% of residents 65 and older.
How did we get here?
The tools to fight COVID-19 were very low-tech in the early days of the pandemic. Social distancing and mask use were both encouraged and controversial. Schools used virtual classrooms, drive-through graduations, and tools to shield students from airborne exposure. Nonessential businesses were closed and slowly restrictions were added and eased as the transmission risks were weighed by the governor’s office.
East Feliciana Parish attraction Barn Hill Preserve adapted to open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Car-e-Safaris allowed for visitors while fully embracing social distancing and needed health precautions.
West Feliciana Parish businesses participated in St. Francisville Strong when most nonessential businesses were shuttered. The campaign offered a website to browse local businesses and buy gift certificates that could be used when those businesses opened up again.
The use of masks and limits on shopping and openings became a touchy subject as some areas saw positive vaccine activity. Havard, an opponent of government mask mandates, encouraged his constituents to follow the recommendations, but said he feels that along with incentives to encourage vaccinations, parishes like West Feliciana should reap some benefit from the behaviors that have led to high vaccination rates.
"I was wondering why in the world they couldn't tell the rest of the state, 'If our goal is to try to get vaccination rates up,' give them a carrot. If you reach 75%, or whatever the number is that they choose, then you can open this thing back up and you don't have to wear a mask and you can go eat in the restaurant; you can do all the things you can get back to normal," he said.
Vaccine rollout and curbing the death rate
Those ultimate vaccination goals became a reality in West Feliciana Parish thanks to a plan and full community buy-in. The parish plan was developed and administered by the health care community, but it included resources and leadership from law enforcement, emergency medical services, the school system, the Council on Aging and local government.
The West Feliciana Parish CDC stats show 1,492 COVID-19 infections and 39 deaths. The parish is near 80% vaccinated even considering children who are not eligible for vaccination. The East Feliciana Parish statistics show 4,419 COVID-19 infections and 140 deaths on a downward trend. Without counting the young children, the parish has an 88% vaccination rate for residents, and a 99% rate for seniors over 65.
The New York Times tracker using CDC reports show 35% of the East Feliciana Parish population full vaccinated and that number increasing to 40% for those 12 and older and 66% for seniors over 65.
The East Feliciana Parish rollout relied heavily on Moreau’s efforts in the often-isolated parts of the parish. He revisited a lot of the vehicles that drove the testing drives and brought in additional help.
“The week before Ida hit, we were supporting a National Guard mobile vaccination throughout the parish," he said. "We were able to have them complete their two days in Clinton and Slaughter, but Ida made us pull the group before they could complete the two days in Jackson. Our local providers, RKM Primary Care, have always provided testing and vaccinations to our residents and still do.”