NEW ORLEANS — There is a new milestone in the pandemic.
The two remaining large Covid testing and vaccine sites in the New Orleans area are closed for good.
Deshonda Jolly and her kids traveled to the drive-up location outside the Mahalia Jackson Theater for one last test.
“We’ve been sick and so this location is very convenient,” Jolly said. “We’ve been coming, testing to know our status.”
Former New Orleans City Councilman Jay Banks showed up with a carrot cake to thank the Louisiana National Guard soldiers who gave the tests and administered the vaccines.
“It’s no doubt that they have saved thousands of lives with being out here,” Banks said. “It has not been the best weather all the time, sometimes it been hot, sometimes it’s been cold, sometimes it’s been raining, but they never wavered.”
The Alario Center site in Westwego is also now closed.
It opened March 21, 2020, just 12 days after Jefferson Parish reported the state's first covid case.
“The federal government was looking at pilot sites,” JP President Cynthia Lee Sheng said. “Of course, we raised our hand. We were really one of the first federal pilot sites to be open and I believe we would have been the longest one opened.
During its run, the site tested more than 39,000 people and administered more than 5,000 doses of the vaccine.
Lee Sheng says the site is closing at a time when the need for testing isn’t what it was over the past two years.
“Even though we’re averaging over 200 new cases a day and still 5 deaths a week, it’s not where we were before and obviously, we’re all going about our lives and it’s a very different life that we’re living right now," Sheng said.
Back at Mahalia Jackson, people who depend on the testing site are thankful covid numbers have come down. But they have mixed emotions about the sites closing.
As the national guard pulls out, they fear the virus is still with us.
“I’m hoping that other entities or other agencies will still be out here providing the service, now that the military is gone, but the need hasn’t gone away,” Banks said. “The need has diminished, but it hasn’t gone away, so it is bittersweet.”
“I do have the at home test, I’ve been ordering online from the federal government, what they’ve been sending out,” Jolly said. “I am worried (as) the numbers are going up. the testing centers are closing.”
Going forward, those in need a covid test or vaccine can visit one of the community health locations in the area or call their local pharmacy or doctor.
New Orleans Heath Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno released this statement about the sites closing:
"Words cannot express our gratitude for the tremendous partnership with the state and LANG during this pandemic. And while we understand they now have other missions to complete, we know it comes at a much better time: at-home tests are readily available, and both vaccines and tests can still be found in many locations around town on the city’s calendar at ready.nola.gov/incident/coronavirus/.
In addition, people who need help finding anti-viral medications like Paxlovid can contact the federal hotline at 1-800-232-0233."