Louisiana begins setting up COVID-19 treatment center at New Orleans convention center

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Work has begun to establish a 1,000-bed “step-down” facility for recovering COVID-19 patients at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, state and local officials said Sunday.

The facility is meant to allow hospitals to reserve beds for patients that need more intensive care. An additional 250-bed facility for patients awaiting test results will be set up across the street.

Health care providers will refer patients to the facilities as needed. New patients should not go there seeking treatment.

A 60-person federal “strike force” that was expected to bolster the state’s “medical surge” has been diverted, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, though a replacement group of up to 180 people from the Navy is expected in the state shortly.

Officials say the New Orleans area could run out of ventilators within a week. Louisiana has received fewer than 200 of the 12,000 ventilators it has requested from federal and private sources. Edwards hopes eventually to get at least some of the 5,000 he has requested from the federal stockpile.

“We’re not going to get them in the number we need them,” Edwards said, adding that other types of breathing devices are being converted for use in hospitals.

Edwards said hospitals around the state are adding intensive care beds and personal protective equipment for health care workers is coming in from various sources. He urged the public to stay home as much as possible and to keep their distance from other people when they must go out, in hopes of limiting the spread of the coronavirus so health care providers will not be overwhelmed with too many cases at once.

“Stay at home, stop the spread and save lives,” Edwards said. “To continue to live as if everything is normal really is the height of selfishness right now.”

Edwards and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said that while most people seem to be respecting city and state “stay at home” orders, too many people are not.

“We need law and order right now,” Cantrell said. “We need you to stay at home. We need you to only come out seeking the essentials.”

As of Sunday’s mid-day update, the Louisiana Department of Health was reporting 3,540 cases of COVID-19 in 59 of the state’s 64 parishes and 151 deaths. The department said 1,127 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized and 380 of them were on ventilators.

Orleans Parish had 1,350 cases and 73 deaths, while neighboring Jefferson Parish had 761 cases and 28 deaths.

On Saturday night, Edwards announced the death of staff member April Dunn from COVID-19. Dunn, 33, served in the Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs.

“April worked hard as an advocate for herself and other members of the disability community,” Edwards said. “She set a great example for how other businesses could make their workforce more inclusive.”