COVID-19 cases are straining the state’s healthcare capacity, Gov. Edwards warns

Number of state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases passes the 100,000 mark

A line of people in New Orleans seeking free COVID-19 testing wraps around the block in this photo from June 30. A survey conducted by LSU'S Reilly Center finds that COVID-19 and the economy are at the top of Louisiana residents' concerns. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry / Louisiana Illuminator)

As the state of Louisiana reached a grim milestone of more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Gov. John Bel Edwards and officials from the two biggest hospitals in Acadiana said Thursday that the surging number of cases, including among health-care workers, is putting Louisiana at risk of running out of staff to treat incoming patients. “What we absolutely cannot have happen here is that we lose our capacity to deliver life-saving health care in our hospitals,” Edwards said.

“We’re quickly running out of space,” Dr. Amanda Logue, the senior vice president and chief medical officer of Lafayette General Medical Center said. LGMC had 15 COVID-19 patients May 27, she said, and 105 on Wednesday, July 22.

COVID-19 cases are surging even as the other diseases requiring hospitalizations continue apace, Logue said.  “We could in normal circumstances take care of both kinds of patients,” she said, “but not when we have surges to this degree.” The hospital system is transferring some scheduled medical procedures off its main campus and “canceling some altogether,” Logue said, “We will do all emergency surgeries that are  necessary, but our hospitals are full, and our ICU is full. We don’t have enough nurses to staff all our beds right now.”

Even the doctors, nurses and hospital staff who aren’t sick are exhausted, Logue said. They can’t sustain the long, intense hours of work that a surge of patients in an understaffed hospital has demanded of them.

The only way forward for Louisiana, she said, is to “flatten the curve once and for all.”

Dr. Henry Kaufman, a surgical oncologist who serves as the chief medical officer at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center, said this hospital is full and ICU is “near complete capacity.” Kaufman said while he was expecting a second wave of cases, he didn’t think it would come so soon. “I thought this wave was going to hit us in the fall,” he said.

Kaufman said, “For two weeks now, we have almost completely eliminated all elective surgeries at the hospital.”  Those postponements are more serious than the public may realize, Kaufman said. “This means that if your cardiologist has recommended that you undergo a heart bypass, that’s not going to happen right now. It may mean that if you have an early-stage cancer, that operation is going to be deferred.”

Even if for some strange reason that is totally incomprehensible to me you don’t care about COVID 19,” Gov. Edwards said, “you should care about there being capacity at that hospital when you have your automobile accident or when you have your heart attack or your stroke or your mother or your grandmother has that stroke or whatever because we’re talking about the same staff and the same beds all over Louisiana.”

Louisiana set a new record Wednesday when it reported 2,802 new COVID-19 cases, that is, cases that cannot be significantly attributed to a backlog of old tests. The previous high point had been on April 2, when Louisiana reported 2,726 new COVID-19 cases.

At the start of Thursday’s press conference, Edwards said, “We posted some big numbers yesterday, and unfortunately the news today isn’t much better.”  The state had counted 2,408 more positive cases, he said, which not only pushed the states tally over 100,000 but all the way to 101,650. The 16 additional deaths, he said, mean that 3,574 Louisianians have died of COVID-19.

“Yesterday we reported 60 (deaths). That was the highest daily number since May, and we do know that sometimes the numbers of deaths lag behind other numbers. No matter how you slice it, these death numbers are very, very troubling.”

Hospitalizations in New Orleans have plateaued, but that’s the best news there is, Edwards said. “There’s not a single one of our nine regions where they’re decreasing.”

The governor also took time to ask the public to ignore those who are claiming that the state has been exaggerating the prevalence of COVID-19 by counting some people more than once. “That just isn’t the case,” he said. “A case refers to a specific individual, whether that individual tested positive once, twice, three times or whatever. I don’t want anybody to believe that the data is inaccurate or being manipulated.”

Edwards called it “grossly irresponsible for people to be spreading misinformation about that to try to minimize how serious this is.”  The numbers follow a pattern, he said.  An increase in the number of people testing positive is followed by an increase in the number of people hospitalized, which is followed by an increase in the number of people dying.

“There’s no way that hospitalizations are going up and the deaths are going up and the cases aren’t going up with them,” he said. “Nobody should be paying attention to what any of those individuals  are saying.

Nobody’s out there cooking the books,” he said. “I’m asking people not to (spread misinformation)  and I’m asking other people not to believe it.”