Gov. Edwards: New Orleans area no longer on pace to run out of ventilators and hospital beds

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday said recent data suggests the New Orleans region’s health care system no longer is on pace to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

However, he said new information could affect that assessment, and stressed the number of new cases could spike again if residents don’t continue to mitigate the spread.

“Just because we think we’re starting to flatten the curve doesn’t mean our job is over,” Edwards said. “Now is the time to double down. This is still going to be a very difficult week, and next week is going to be difficult.”

Louisiana previously had requested some 14,000 ventilators from federal and private sources, asking for more than it would likely need because it was impossible to know which orders would be filled. Edwards said state officials are reducing that number to around 1,000 or so as health care providers find more effective and less invasive treatment approaches. More than 750 ventilators have been delivered since the crisis began.

A week ago, Edwards was worried the New Orleans area could run out ventilators and hospital beds.

“Right now, based on where we think we are, we don’t believe in the next 10 days or two weeks that we’re going to be short of ventilators,” he said.

Edwards stressed that there is still much public health officials don’t understand about the spread of COVID-19. While the trajectory of new hospitalizations is more encouraging than it has been, he said, the state’s high death rate is more concerning.

At noon Tuesday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 582 state residents had died from COVID-19, which is 70 deaths higher than was reported the previous day. LDH said 1,996 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized and 519 of them were on ventilators.

Though black people make up about 32 percent of the state’s population, LDH says about 70 percent of the people who have died from COVID-19 were black. About 66 percent of Louisiana patients who died had hypertension; other common underlying conditions include diabetes (about 44 percent) obesity (25 percent) and kidney disease (25 percent).

A total of 16,284 cases of the illness had been reported.

About 155,000 Louisiana residents had filed for unemployment benefits through the end of March, Edwards said. Federal money that will allow state officials to expand eligibility for self-employed workers and contractors has not yet arrived.

Edwards has been holding press briefings about the state’s COVID-19 response almost daily, all of which can be watched online. On Tuesday he began taking questions from the general public and said questions could be submitted to askjbe@la.gov.