If Louisiana coronavirus trends continue, local hospitals could run out of ventilators soon

Known cases of coronavirus continued to spread across Louisiana Saturday, with the virus now detected in 56 of the state’s 64 parishes and New Orleans facing a critical shortage of the life-saving ventilators needed to treat the sickest patients.

The total number of known cases in the state rose to 3,315, a jump of 21% from a day earlier. The increase was largely a reflection of the ramped-up capacity of Louisiana’s testing labs, which after a slow start have now processed more than 25,000 tests — the same number of tests as California, a state with eight times Louisiana’s population.

The number of known coronavirus clusters in Louisiana nursing homes and senior complexes rose by three on Saturday, according to health officials.

The lethality of the coronavirus locally is still off the charts: Orleans Parish continues to have by far the highest per-capita death toll from coronavirus of any county in America. The per-capita rate of deaths in the city — about 18 per 100,000 residents so far — is more than twice any other county. As of Saturday, the virus had killed 70 New Orleanians.

Jefferson Parish also ranked fifth among American counties on that measure. By Saturday, the virus had killed 26 people there. The number of deaths recorded statewide jumped to 137 Saturday, from 119 a day earlier.

Perhaps more worrisome than the 500-plus new confirmed cases announced Saturday was the continued rapid climb in the number of COVID-19 patients in Louisiana requiring hospitalization or a ventilator. Both of those numbers have shot up by more than 200% in just four days, and officials warned Saturday that Louisiana is rapidly running out of ventilators.

Medical-grade masks, gloves and gowns will be accepted at three of the New Orleans Fire Department locations through April 5. 

If Louisiana’s infection trends continue, and more ventilators don’t arrive in the New Orleans region soon, local hospitals will run out of them by Wednesday, former health secretary Rebekah Gee said Saturday.

“I’m trying to sound the alarm bells that we don’t have the vents coming,” Gee said in an interview.

There has been a global shortage of the ventilators that pump oxygen into the lungs of patients with severe respiratory illness since the pandemic began.

Aly Neel, an LDH spokeswoman, confirmed the timeline offered by Gee. Neel said Region 1, which includes Orleans Parish and several adjoining parishes, has a total of 608 ventilators, of which 191 are currently available. Each day since Wednesday, the number of Louisianans needing a ventilator has risen by about 60, and that demand has been concentrated around New Orleans.

The coronavirus death toll in Louisiana continued to climb on Saturday, with health officials reporting 137 deaths and 3,315 cases across the state. 

Around the state, there are still roughly 750 more ventilators available, and it wasn’t clear if the state was considering moving some of them to New Orleans.

Neel said that Gov. John Bel Edwards last week asked federal officials for 100 more ventilators from the Strategic National Supply, but the request was rejected. The state now has a request for 5,000 ventilators pending, she said.

BR.govpresser.032820 TS 146.jpg

Alex Billioux, M.D., Assistant Secretary of Health for the La. Dept. of Health’s Office of Public Health, takes a question at the lectern as Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards uses his break from the microphone to work in a dollop of hand sanitizer, during a briefing of media members on the state’s evolving novel coronavirus COVID-19 situation, Friday, March 27, 2020 at the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management in Baton Rouge, La. State numbers at right include a total of 119 COVID-19 deaths confirmed, as of Friday.

“The governor asks, and of the 12,000 he’s asked for, he has gotten only 192,” said Gee, who now heads the LSU Health Care Services Division. “And we are supposed to run out of vents by Wednesday.”

Edwards is set to appear on all three national networks Sunday morning, according to spokeswoman Christina Stephens.

“He is not going to let Louisiana be forgotten or left out of the national discussion,” Stephens said in a Tweet Saturday.

And @LouisianaGov will also appear on Face the Nation on @CBS on Sunday morning to discuss #COVID19.

Should have approximate times soon.

He is not going to let Louisiana be forgotten or left out of the national discussion. https://t.co/XGFgvuRkZN

— Christina “Stay 🏠, y’all” Stephens (@CEStephens) March 28, 2020

President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the American automakers General Motors and Ford to begin making ventilators, but production is not supposed to be in full swing for weeks — not in time to prevent the coming shortfalls, Gee and others said.

Data provided by LDH late Saturday also showed the New Orleans area running very low on intensive care beds. Just 12% of the 434 critical care beds for adults were available as of Saturday; that number has been shrinking steadily for days.


Workers prepare the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Hall J Friday, March 27, 2020, after Louisiana state health officials said they are planning to put more than 1,100 beds in the make shift hospital for positive coronavirus patients. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said the New Orleans region could run out of ICU beds as soon as April 7. In anticipation of a shortfall, local hospitals have been frantically trying to add capacity, and work was beginning this weekend to turn sections of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center into a field hospital that could house as many as 1,100 patients.

It’s unclear why the virus has proved so lethal in Louisiana so far.

Experts have said that the high death rates here could owe partly to the high proportion of locals who suffer from pre-existing health conditions. The state Department of Health released data Friday showing that 95% of those who have died thus far had at least one such condition, with diabetes, chronic kidney issues and obesity being the most common.

Another factor could be the coronavirus’ spread into facilities housing the elderly.


Kenan Rand, left, and friends head home after showing love and support to his mother Pat Mason, 83, a resident of the Lambert House, who is quarantined with no coronavirus symptoms, in New Orleans, Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

At least 11 residents of Lambeth House, the senior complex in Uptown New Orleans, have died so far in the pandemic. And “clusters” of the virus have now been detected in at least 11 facilities housing seniors around Louisiana, LDH officials said Saturday.

That was up from eight such known clusters on Friday. In addition, officials confirmed Saturday that the virus had been detected in at least some of the five regional homes for elderly and disabled veterans run by the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

A spokeswoman for the department said there had been eight confirmed cases of coronavirus and two deaths in those homes, but the department would not provide details about where the cases or the deaths had occurred.

If you have questions about coronavirus, please email our newsroom at online@theadvocate.com.

Read More