Convention hall to handle New Orleans virus patient overflow

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FILE – In this Sunday, March 22, 2020, file photo, street performer Eddie Webb looks around the nearly deserted French Quarter looking to make money in New Orleans. Like many cities around the country, New Orleans is currently under a shelter-in-place order as it grapples with a growing number of coronavirus cases. In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards has repeatedly sounded the alarm about how Louisiana has the third-highest rate of confirmed virus cases per capita while at the same time noting the difficulty of the small state getting supplies. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The number of known coronavirus cases in Louisiana jumped by more than 500 Thursday, surpassing 2,300, with 86 deaths, the state health department said.

A 17-year-old was among the latest deaths, the first in the state of someone under 18.

New Orleans continued to be a major center of COVID-19 worries. But cases also were up significantly in the opposite corner of the state. Northwest Louisiana’s Caddo Parish cases increased by 22, to 115; neighboring Bossier Parish was up to 32, an increase of 25 from the day before.

The higher infection numbers reflect the increase in testing. In Thursday’s figures, the number tested rose nearly 6600, to 18,000. Coronavirus has now been found in 53 of 64 parishes, although Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he believes it’s present in every parish, even as statewide mandates banning crowds and closing businesses continue.

“We won’t see the impact of the distancing and the closing of schools and people staying home for a couple of weeks. … We are not near the peak of this yet,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an infectious disease expert and chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

New Orleans was gearing up Thursday for a possible overflow at area hospitals, with plans to treat as many as 3,000 patients at the city’s convention center.

The Morial Convention Center will be used for patients who no longer need ventilators to breathe, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during a news conference Wednesday evening.

While hospitals were scrambling to reallocate personnel and seek more health care workers in anticipation of more cases, city officials said they are prepared to bring in workers from other areas to deal with those treated at the Morial Convention Center.

Business shutdowns because of state and local mandates and “stay-at-home” orders began showing up economic statistics Thursday. More than 72,600 people in Louisiana filed new unemployment claims last week, compared with nearly 2,300 a week earlier, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Although most people recover and many suffer only mild symptoms, COVID-19 — the disease caused by the virus — can cause serious illness including respiratory problems for some, including the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

There is also a growing need for protective masks and clothing to keep health care workers from getting the disease and life-saving ventilators for patients. By Wednesday, 491 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized. Of those, 163 patients — still roughly one-third — required ventilation. On Thursday, the number hospitalized was up to 676. The state said 239 required ventilators.

Louisiana has the third-highest rate of confirmed virus cases per capita, Edwards said Wednesday. He warned that the state could run out of ventilators for patients in the New Orleans area in the first week of April.

Despite bans on crowds, WAFB TV reported that Life Tabernacle Church in Central, near Baton Rouge, continues to defiantly hold services, sometimes drawing hundreds. The latest was Tuesday night and some neighbors were upset.

“I’m 73 years old. Every time any one of those 1,300 or 300, depending on which day of the week they hold services, leave there and go anywhere else in the city of Central, they’re exposing elderly guys like myself,” Central resident Larry Gregoire told the TV station.

The state says six nursing homes or retirement homes have “clusters” of recorded coronavirus. Five were identified Thursday: Chateau D’Ville in Donaldsonvile; Chateau De Notre Dame, Lambeth House and Vista Shores in New Orleans; and St. James Place in Baton Rouge. Lambeth House house is a retirement home where 42 residents have been infected and 11 have died. A spokesman there said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been working on site and remotely to help deal with the outbreak. Greg Beuerman said 10 of the infected are now virus-free and out of isolation.

Also Thursday, New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees announced on social media that he was committing $5 million to an effort to serve meals statewide to children, the elderly and others in need during the crisis.

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Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge. Associated Press reporter Kevin McGill contributed to this story from New Orleans.

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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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