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Gov. Edwards: Louisiana remains on pace to exceed health care capacity

David Jacobs – The Center Square

(The Center Square) – While new reports show Louisiana’s rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 falling closer in line with the national average, the state remains on pace to run out of capacity to treat its patients, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

“We still have more than our share of people dying,” he said.

At least 310 Louisiana residents with COVID-19 have died, the Louisiana Department of Health says. A national model predicting between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths indicates Louisiana could have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,800 deaths, with a peak of about 76 deaths around April 10, Edwards said, noting that the model shows a wide range of possible outcomes and assumes mitigation efforts stay in place through May.

Edwards plans Thursday to issue the proclamation extending his “stay at home” order through the end of April. Louisiana residents will get a phone alert of the extension at 4 p.m., he said. Residents also can text “lacovid” to 67283 to sign up for COVID-19 updates from the governor’s office.

As of noon Thursday, 9,150 cases of the illness caused by the new coronavirus had been reported. Of those patients, 1,639 are in hospitals and 507 of them are on ventilators.

In the greater New Orleans region, which easily has the highest number of confirmed cases in the state, 390 hospitalized patients were on ventilators while 185 ventilators still were available, according to LDH.

New Orleans currently is on pace to run out of ventilators by April 7 and hospital beds by April 12, Edwards said, adding that his administration had reported some ventilator vendors to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana for price gouging.

“We are trying to source ventilators from literally all over the world,” he said.

Louisiana residents on average are thought to have a higher risk of serious complications from the disease than people in other states because of Louisiana’s high rates of diabetes and obesity.

“If there is a place to draw hope [in the latest numbers] it is that these new data reveal our COVID-19 related hospitalization and death rates, while still concerningly high, are trending more in line with the national average,” said Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary of the Office of Public Health. 

The number of reported positive cases jumped by more than 2,700 since Wednesday, easily the biggest single-day increase reported so far. Edwards attributes the large increase to a “logjam” of results from commercial tests performed over several days being reported all at once.

Edwards said he was pleased to see testing ramp up across the state, which helps assess the scope of the problem.

“That said, as more and more commercial labs come online our different data systems must learn to talk to one another,” he said.

More than 1,200 members of the Louisiana National Guard are helping to distribute supplies throughout the state, Edwards said. He said ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge would begin producing multiuse masks.

Edwards also noted the death of Ellis Marsalis Jr., a prominent New Orleans musician and the patriarch of what has been called the “first family of jazz.” Marsalis’ family attributes his death to pneumonia brought on by COVID-19.

Edwards said some of the state’s population centers, such as New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Bossier City, seem to mostly be complying with his disease mitigation rules, which include closing businesses deemed nonessential, staying home as much as possible, maintaining distance between yourself and others if you must go out, and avoiding groups. Some areas “are not doing well at all.”

“I’m counting on the goodness and the decency of the people of Louisiana to cooperate,” Edwards said. “That will directly correlate to the number of people that will die.”