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Governor: Louisiana getting only drug approved for COVID-19

by Will Phillips

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana is getting the only drug approved to treat COVID-19, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday.

A new shipment of remdesivir means the state will have received enough of the drug to treat about 1,200 patients, according to data Edwards presented during a news conference livestreamed from Baton Rouge. He said the first shipment was May 14. The drug is being sent to all hospitals that have at least five patients infected with the novel coronavirus — currently 47 facilities.

Edwards said other hospitals can request the drug if they feel a patient would benefit. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of remdesivir for severely ill people.

Edwards said Louisiana is on the way to meeting its goal of testing 200,000 people this month. “We’re about 56,000 short with nine days to go,” he said.

With help from the Louisiana National Guard, mobile testing units are operating in five of the state’s public health regions and will be running in all nine within two weeks, Edwards said.

He said they’re being sent to areas which have had inadequate testing so far, relative hotspots, and places where many people live or work closely together.

A good sign, he said, is that fewer than 6.5% of all tests are positive, while the national goal is fewer than 10%. “We are obviously trending in the right direction,” he said.

Earlier Friday, the federal government released statistics showing Louisiana’s unemployment rate more than doubled during the first full month of coronavirus pandemic restrictions on business, but was about the national rate for April.

The state’s unemployment rate for April was 14.5%, up from 6.7% in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. The national rate was 14.7%.

“The unprecedented public health emergency brought on by COVID-19 is not only deeply impacting the health of our people but also the health of our economy,” Edwards said in a news release.

The governor closed bars, gyms, movie theaters and casinos on March 16, restricting restaurants to take-out and delivery. Starting May 15, gyms and malls were allowed to reopen at 25% of capacity. Casinos were allowed to reopen Monday, and most have done so.

Edwards said Louisiana has come back from challenges before and will do so again. Before the pandemic, he said, the state’s unemployment had generally been decreasing for several years.

“Now more than ever we must be united in our efforts to keep the coronavirus at bay in order to get our economy moving forward for our employers, workers, communities and state,” he said.

The economic news came as the state Department of Health reported that numbers of hospitalized patients and those on ventilators continued to edge down.

There were 867 people hospitalized Friday with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. That was down from 884 Thursday and 1,031 on Monday, according to the department’s COVID-19 information site. The department said 104 were on ventilators. That compares to 107 Thursday and 118 Monday.

The department said about 36,900 people have been diagnosed with the disease and at least 2,545 of them have died.

Looking toward the Memorial Day holiday, Edwards emphasized that wearing masks, staying 6 feet from other people, hand-washing and other coronavirus precautions remain essential.

“Our gains are important but they are fragile,” he said.

Late Friday, meanwhile, the federal court for the Western District of Louisiana ordered the immediate release of 14 of 15 medically vulnerable people being detained in Louisiana by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The 15th person is in a facility where the virus has not yet been found so he was not included in the release order, a spokeswoman for the National Immigration Project said.

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