BATON ROUGE -- As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, Gov. John Bel Edwards continued his stance.
Follow the mitigation measures in place.
“The statewide mitigation measures apply to everyone,” Edwards said, “and I urge everyone to take them very, very seriously. It’s quite frankly the case the life you save could be your own.”
Edwards made this plea to Louisiana residents while speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, hours after the Department of Health reported the state had surged past 2,000 positive cases in more than 80 percent of the state’s parishes.
The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has now reached 2,305 positive cases in 53 of the state’s 64 parishes, according to the Department of Health’s latest figures. Locally, Livingston Parish saw a jump to 11 cases, nearly double from the day before.
The death toll across the state now stands at 83, up by 18 from the previous day. This includes the youngest fatality to date — a 17-year-old Orleans Parish resident who became the first person in Louisiana under the age of 36 to die from the disease.
“It [should] illustrate the point that everyone is at risk,” said Edwards, who added that an investigation is ongoing to determine if the teenager had underlying health problems. “Nobody should assume that this disease will not severely impact them or have the potential to kill them.”
On Thursday, Louisiana moved into a tie with New Jersey for the second-highest rate of positive cases of the coronavirus per capita in the country, behind only New York state. In the past two days, the virus count has jumped up more than 900 positive cases statewide, during which time the death toll has nearly doubled.
This morning, Edwards said President Donald Trump granted his request related to two 250-bed federal field hospitals, which are “basically beds and IV poles.” This does not include the personnel to run the hospital beds, but Edwards said a 60-person Public Health Service strike team of doctors and nurses was also granted to the state.
But the people of Louisiana shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet, Edwards said, as the disease continues to spread at a “very staggering” rate.
“We have yet to start flattening the curve,” he said.
On Sunday, Edwards issued a statewide “stay at home” order in effect until at least Sunday, April 12. The order closed all casinos, movie theaters, bars, schools, and “non-essential” businesses; limited public gatherings to 10 people or less; and limited restaurants to take-out and delivery services with no on-site dining. He is also urging people to practice social distancing and maintain at least 6 feet of space.
Though there is still mystery surrounding the virus, Edwards said the solution isn’t mysterious.
“We know enough already to know that people need to follow the stay at home order… [and] practice social distancing,” he said. “It is of the utmost importance.”
If the state doesn’t “flatten the curve” soon, Edwards said projections show that hard-hit Region 1 — which consists of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes — could be out of ventilators by April 2 and bed space by April 7.
Staffing is also becoming increasingly problematic, with Edwards calling it “the most difficult part of this.” The issue becomes even more straining if staffing must be divided into multiple smaller sites rather than one big site.
“There’s simply not enough healthcare resources to care for all those who will need care if we continue to develop cases at the current pace,” he said. “If we don’t slow the spread of the virus… this is what’s gonna happen. It’s not conjecture. This isn’t some flimsy theory. It’s not a scare tactic. This is what’s gonna happen.”
In order to surge emergency capacity for coronavirus cases, the state needs more ventilators and beds but also staff to work those new posts, Edwards said. During the press conference, the governor asked healthcare students, graduates, active members, or retirees of the healthcare workforce to volunteer through an online submission form to “meet the challenges of COVID-19.”
Currently, the state has 955 National Guard soldiers and airmen “involved in response to COVID,” Edwards said. Of that total, 667 are traditional National Guardsmen who have been mobilized specifically for this emergency. They are supporting testing sites, transporting critical needs, and maintaining and operating warehouses.
Edwards said his office is “working around the clock” in regards to medical surge capacity. And while the average person doesn’t have a role to play in how the state carries out the surge, Edwards said each person has “a tremendous role to play in determining the degree to which we have to surge and the time within which we have to do it in order to meet the need.”
“If you will do what is within your power to slow the spread of this virus… we won’t need to surge as much or as fast,” he said. “You have the power in yourself to save lives… if you simply minimize the contact you have with other people.”