Louisiana to begin lifting some restrictions on nonemergency health care

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday announced the state’s health care sector can begin performing nonemergency procedures starting next week.

Health care providers will have discretion to decide whether a procedure needs to happen soon to protect the patient’s health. Postponed elective procedures that can stay on hold without jeopardizing the patient’s long-term health still should not be performed, state officials say.

Monday’s announcement was the first step toward what Edwards warns will be a gradual, phased process of lifting various temporary economic restrictions meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

While Louisiana is among the nation’s leaders in the number of COVID-19 tests performed relative to its population, more robust testing and tracing of people who have come in contact with the virus is necessary to resume commerce at anything like pre-pandemic levels, state officials say. The goal is to be able to test up to 200,000 people per month, compared to about 140,000 total tests so far, and to expand the state’s contact tracing team from 70 to 700.

Monday also marked Edwards’ first public briefing to include Courtney Phillips, the new secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health.

“It is definitely an unprecedented time for me to join the agency,” she said. “I know that this is a trying time for all of us.”

On Sunday, state Rep. Blake Miguez, who chairs the Louisiana House Republican Delegation, sent Edwards a letter urging the governor to begin lifting business restrictions when his current “stay at home” order expires at the end of the month, citing the “devastating economic impact” of the partial shutdown.

“On behalf of my constituents, I urge you to begin the process of reopening those businesses, on May 1st, under the phased guidelines provided by the White House,” his letter reads in part. “In particular, the president and his health care experts spoke about the ability to reopen our economy on a parish-by-parish basis.”

Edwards said Monday he didn’t think lifting the partial economic shutdown by parish is “workable.” Opening region-by-region might make more sense, he said, but that also isn’t being considered now.

Edwards said Louisiana doesn’t yet qualify under federal guidelines to move into Phase 1 of the White House’s suggested plan to reopen state or regional economies. Though the state appears to be on pace to do so by May 1, that could change if there is another spike in cases, which is why it is important for people to continue staying home as much as possible and maintaining social distancing, he said.

On Friday, a coalition of statewide and regional business groups issued suggested guidelines for remaining “safe at work” as more sectors of the economy reopen. The Edwards administration and the Louisiana Legislature have established commissions to help them work through the process, hopefully while protecting public health.

As of noon Monday, at least 1,328 Louisiana residents had been killed by COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, according to the state health department. Officials said 1,794 patients were hospitalized and 332 of them were on ventilators.

Though black people make up only about 32 percent of Louisiana’s population, more than 56 percent of Louisiana residents who died from COVID-19 were black. About 56 percent of the patients who died also had hypertension, while almost 35 percent had diabetes. About 20 percent had chronic kidney disease and about 20 percent were obese, state officials say.

More than 24,500 Louisiana cases have been reported.