Gov. Edwards on virus: Louisiana on a trajectory like Italy

Coronavirus

Patients are evaluated at a drive-thru screening for the coronavirus at the Cajundome in Lafayette, La., Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The tests are being conducted by medical professionals from Our Lady of Lourdes and Lafayette General Health system. For some, the coronavirus can cause more severe illness. For most people, the it causes only mild or moderate symptoms. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that a growing number of new coronavirus cases could push the state past its capacity to deliver health care in seven days, comparing Louisiana’s possible situation to that of Italy, where the virus has overwhelmed hospitals.

Edwards asked President Donald Trump for federal help in a national conference call Trump held with governors, telling the president Louisiana’s system could be strained beyond capacity in a week. At a later news conference, he said that timeline was a “worst-case scenario” that the state could realize unless people change their behavior and follow the restrictions on businesses and public gatherings.

“Our trajectory is basically the same as what they had in Italy. And if there’s anything I said today that ought to get people’s attention, it is that,” Edwards said. “If we are not going to look like Italy in 10 days or two weeks, it will only be because of these mitigation measures.”

The number of people known to be infected with the virus in Louisiana jumped to nearly 380, Edwards said Thursday afternoon. That was up from 280 a day earlier.

The death toll rose to 10 Thursday with the latest victims, a 44-year-old New Orleans resident with underlying health conditions and a 91-year-old resident of Lambeth House, the New Orleans retirement home where a cluster of cases prompted four other deaths.

“My fear, based on modeling that I’ve received today, is that in as little as seven days we could start to exceed our capacity to deliver health care,” Edwards told Trump.

“We’ve got some requests in. For example, we have a VA hospital in New Orleans where we’ve requested to be able to surge patients there,” Edwards said.

“I’m going to try to get you immediate approval on the hospital,” Trump told Edwards.

A complete breakdown on where the new cases are wasn’t immediately available but New Orleans has consistently led the state in the number of cases.

Tulane Health System in New Orleans said in a news release it planned to shut down an emergency room in the suburb of Metairie on Friday to move staff to its downtown New Orleans campus to deal with “a surge of COVID-19 and suspected COVID-19 patients.”

The New Orleans metropolitan area had significantly more cases – over 300 — than any other metro area in the South, an Associated Press analysis of state health department data shows.

The numbers were tallied from state data using the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s classification of Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

The virus was also evident elsewhere in the state, showing up in 17 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes

The vast majority of people recover within weeks after catching the virus, and for most people, it causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness requiring hospitalization.

Edwards had cautioned Louisianans to get ready for a surge in cases as testing capacity grows statewide.

Small businesses struggling with virus-related restrictions will be eligible to apply for low-interest federal disaster loans. Edwards announced Thursday that Louisiana won federal approval for its request to make the U.S. Small Business Administration aid available in all 64 parishes.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon issued new regulations requiring health insurers to waive co-pays and deductibles for COVID-19 testing, and banning insurers from requiring prior authorization for testing ordered by doctors. Insurers also must allow early refills of most non-opioid medications.

Also, Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, of Jefferson Parish, announced he now must work remotely on the national coronavirus response because he had an “extended meeting” last week with Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart of Florida, who tested positive. Díaz-Balart disclosed his infection on Wednesday, becoming the first known positive case in Congress.

Scalise said he does not have any COVID-19 symptoms, but is self-isolating out of caution.

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McGill reported from New Orleans. Associated Press writer Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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