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Louisiana Struggles to Curb Fast-Growing COVID-19 Outbreak


Just weeks ago, revelers in New Orleans and across Louisiana were celebrating Mardi Gras.

Today, hospitals throughout the Pelican State are struggling to keep up with one of the fastest-growing coronavirus outbreaks in the world and Louisiana’s governor is warning that the situation will only grow more dire in the coming days and weeks.

“There is no reason to believe that we won’t be the next Italy,” Governor John Bel Edwards said on Sunday. “We have the fastest growth rate of confirmed cases in the world in the first 13 days right here in Louisiana.”

 Louisiana Residents Staying Home to Flatten the Curve

On March 9th, Louisiana had confirmed fewer than 100 cases of COVID-19 in the state. Just 16 days later, confirmed cases are nearing 1,400 and 46 people had died.

Louisiana’s hospitals will exceed capacity within seven to 10 days if steps aren’t taken to curb transmission. Like his counterparts in 16 other states, Governor Edwards has ordered residents to stay home.

“If we want to flatten the curve we have to take more aggressive mitigation measures now and limit social contact now,” he said. “We’ve got to take action now.”

Louisiana’s order went into effect on March 23rd and will remain in place until at least April 12th. For now, residents may only leave their homes to go to the grocery store or pharmacy, attend medical appointments, care for a friend or family member, and pickup food from a restaurant. While outdoor exercise is also permitted, those who venture outside must maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet from others.

Only non-essential businesses — pharmacies, grocery stores, medical facilities, and restaurants offering takeout or drive-through – are permitted to remain open.

Louisiana Healthcare Workers Reusing N94 Masks, Other PPE

The coronavirus outbreak has hit Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes particularly hard, and just 15% of ICU beds remain available in those communities. Less than 1/3 of adult ICU beds are available statewide, and no region in Louisiana has more than 50% of adult ICU beds free. Twenty percent of the state’s coronavirus patients are hospitalized and 94 have already required ventilators.

“The first night I worked where the entire unit was COVID patients, I got into my car and started bawling,” one nurse told the Times-Picayune. “When I tell you it’s like a war zone up there, that’s kind of putting it easy.”

While the state currently has an adequate supply of ventilators on hand, Louisiana healthcare workers are running short on N95 respirators and other Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE.

According to one New Orleans emergency room doctor, a major hospital is now keeping all PPE under lock and key because of theft concerns. A patient care technician at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans also reported wearing the same N95 mask and gown for nearly a week, as the facility can only provide replacements for PPE that’s broken, ripped, wet, or visibly soiled.

“They’re short of everything,” she said. “Everybody is scared to be in the (COVID patient) rooms for a long period of time. It seems like we’re not caring for the patient, and that adds stress.”

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