Louisiana waits on ventilator shipment as virus deaths spike
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana saw its deadliest day of the coronavirus epidemic Tuesday, as the state awaited a promised shipment of ventilators from the national stockpile to help care for its most fragile COVID-19 patients and braced for a looming weekend deadline when New Orleans hospitals are expected to run out of the breathing machines.
Fifty-four more Louisianans have died from the virus, bringing the state’s death toll to 239, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. Increased testing shows more than 5,200 people have confirmed infections, according to the figures, up more than 1,200 in the largest single-day spike in the number of new virus cases Louisiana has seen since its first infection was reported March 9.
Gov. John Bel Edwards called the numbers “sobering” and responded by doubling the number of overflow hospital beds being constructed at the New Orleans convention center to 2,000.
“We have yet to see any evidence that we are flattening the curve,” the governor said. “That puts us firmly on a path to exceeding our capacity to deliver health care.”
Edwards said the numbers reenforce his decision to extend Louisiana’s “stay at home” order through the end of April, in line with President Donald Trump’s most recent guidance.
State lawmakers returned to the Louisiana Capitol on Tuesday for a short introduction of last-minute bills on the last day they could introduce legislation for the regular session, including emergency measures aimed at the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers distanced themselves in the House and Senate chambers to read in those bills and then quickly adjourned an hour later. A return date hasn’t been set. Just over half of legislators attended — a few in masks and gloves and almost no lawmakers from the New Orleans area, which is a hot spot for the virus.
In the House, lawmakers sat along the walls and in desks that weren’t their own to keep a safe distance from each other.
Baton Rouge Rep. Ted James, the 37-year-old Democratic chairman of the House criminal justice committee, announced late Monday he was hospitalized with pneumonia stemming from the virus.
“I hope my constituents and the people of Louisiana look at my experience and understand that this virus does not know age, race, health or socioeconomic status,” James said in a statement. He added: “I implore everyone to stay home, stay safe and save lives. I know God is in control, and I look forward to beating this and returning to work soon.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and be fatal. The virus is highly contagious.
The New Orleans region, Edwards said, is on track to run out of ventilators by this weekend and hospital beds only days later. A desperate search for ventilators has turned up few so far. Trump has committed to send 150 ventilators from the national stockpile, and Edwards expected to receive those by Wednesday.
But the shipment from the federal government will only go so far. Edwards said it will keep the city from running out an extra “day or so, maybe two if we get really lucky.” The number of coronavirus patients using the breathing devices is steadily climbing each day.
Competition among states for ventilators was only driving up costs, however.
“It’s not a model of efficiency,” Edwards said.
To meet the increasing demand for medical beds, Louisiana is creating a temporary hospital at New Orleans’ convention center for recovering patients who no longer need ventilators or intensive care. The original 1,000 beds planned are expected to be ready for use Sunday, costing an estimated $91 million to set up and staff. Edwards said he’s decided to add another 1,000 beds to the facility because of the stark escalation of virus cases.
While the governor called on people to stay home, a Baton Rouge-area pastor planned to hold Tuesday night services — even after he was charged with six misdemeanors for violating the governor’s ban on large gatherings.
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