Governor begins to talk Phase 1 again as hospitals around state near capacity, cancel elective procedures

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BATON ROUGE, La. (The Livingston Parish News) – As of right now, Gov. John Bel Edwards intends to signs his proclamation to keep the state in Phase 2 through Aug. 7, to give time for masks to take effect and help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Where Louisiana goes from there is still up in the air, but the governor began talking of moving back to Phase 1 Thursday in the wake of “troubling announcements” from the state’s larger hospitals.

Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge said Thursday, through the Advocate in Baton Rouge, that their hospital was at capacity with regard to providing care. Staffing was one of the major issues Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer for OLOL, said.

During his press conference, Gov. Edwards provided testimony from Dr. Amanda Logue, of Lafayette General, and Dr. Henry Kaufman, of Our Lady of Lourdes – both Acadiana hospitals. Both doctors stated that their hospitals are “at or near capacity.”

Dr. Logue said that her facility has already had to transfer up to 15 COVID-19 patients as far away as Mississippi in the past two weeks due to capacity issues. 87% of transfers-in for specialized care have been rejected, due to cancellation of elective procedures.

“(Rejecting transfers is) not normal for us,” Dr. Logue said, “it’s not normal at all. As capacity increases we’ve lost the ability to provide care for some patients.

“However, if you are sick or showing symptoms and need hospitalization in the Acadiana area we ask that you come to the hospital first,” Logue added. “We can at least provide treatment until we find a place for you.”

Kaufman said he echoed Logue’s sentiments.

Although he is the chief medical officer for Lourdes, Kaufman is an oncologist by trade. However, during this time with the spread of COVID-19 and cancellation of elective procedures, the doctor warns that people may be misinterpreting what ‘elective’ truly means.

“When I speak to people, they think elective procedures means ‘knee replacement’ or a hernia,” Kaufman said. “That’s true, but it also includes breast exams for cancer, early stage cancer biopsies, even heart by-pass surgery.”

Kaufman said that he expected a second wave in the fall but figured his system would be better prepared. The second surge being so soon after the first in April and early May has put a strain on resources – especially beds and people.

“These medical emergencies don’t stop, so as COVID fills our Emergency Rooms and ICUs we cannot treat these victims and patients effectively when they arrive,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman also said that there are plenty of patients in the ICU who are 18-29, an age group that was considered vulnerable to community spread but not to intensive healthcare issues.

The consistent calls for filling hospitals and lack of medical personnel has Bel Edwards discussing moving backwards to Phase 1. The governor also mentioned Lafayette Generals transfers, which could become a problem, he said, if “many hospitals start needing to transfer patients, and there’s no where to go.”

Edwards said capacity is a nationwide issue, as is staffing. The state is having problems finding nurses and healthcare providers, as well as hospital rooms, in nearby states and are having to deal with COVID-19 locally.

Last week, Edwards said the federal task force had provided ideas and strategies to combat COVID-19 without having to regress in phases.

However, the circumstances have changed.

“I don’t want to go backwards – but, we will not wait until we cannot provide needed health care for patients, and we must protect our healthcare providers,” Edwards said in defense of moving back to Phase 1, if necessary.

Louisiana surpassed 100,000 total cases of the novel coronavirus, becoming the 12th state to reach the grim milestone, according to the latest figures from the Louisiana Department of Health.

On Thursday, health officials added 2,296 cases to the ongoing tally, bringing the statewide case count to date to 101,650. This marks the 16th time since July 1 that the state has added more than 1,500 new cases in a single day, including the eighth time of at least 2,000 cases since July 10.

According to health officials, 91 percent of Thursday’s new cases were the result of community spread, while 33 percent were among individuals ages 29 and younger. The collection dates for most of the new cases fall between July 16-23.

Louisiana became the latest state to pass the 100,000 threshold and is by far the least populated to reach the mark. The next closest in population to pass 100,000 cases is Massachusetts, which has roughly 2.2 million more people than Louisiana.

California, New York, Florida, and Texas top the country in total number of cases.

As of Thursday, Louisiana has reported 3,574 COVID-19 related deaths, a rise of 16 from the day before. On Wednesday, the state confirmed its most new deaths (60) in a single day since May 1.

COVID-19 hospitalizations showed a slight increase on Thursday, rising by four overnight to reach 1,585 statewide. The number of patients on ventilators also increased, jumping by nine to 197.

According to officials, Louisiana state has conducted approximately 1,174,868 tests either through the state lab or commercial labs. That’s an increase of 21,967 tests, which puts Thursday’s rate of positivity at 10.4 percent, slightly worse than the state’s goal of 10 percent.

According to both the governor and the testifying doctors, case counts are important because cases lead to hospitalizations.

The governor reiterated the mitigation efforts for COVID-19 that have become a mainstay in the discussion – wear a mask in public; wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more; maintain six feet of distance between yourself and others in public; and stay home if at all possible. Gov. Edwards said that if those mitigation efforts were followed, the situation may turn out differently.

A move to Phase 1 would affect Livingston Parish Public Schools’ reopening plan, which currently anticipates opening in Phase 2 which is a hybrid model of in-person and at-home learning.

The governor placed a mask mandate into effect in early July, but has also begun sparring with the Attorney General Jeff Landry over the legality of the mandate. No action has been taken by the AG’s office at this time.

McHugh David | The News

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