Louisiana hospitals oppose effort to revoke virus emergency

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FILE – In this May 25, 2005, file photo, Lovely R. Suanino, a respiratory therapist at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, N.J., demonstrates setting up a ventilator in the intensive care unit of the hospital. U.S. hospitals bracing for a possible onslaught of coronavirus patients with pneumonia and other breathing difficulties could face a critical shortage of mechanical ventilators and health care workers to operate them. (AP Photo/Mike Derer, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana hospital leaders are warning that efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak could be hampered by conservative House Republicans’ push to revoke Gov. John Bel Edwards’ public health emergency declaration.

The Louisiana Hospital Association is joining GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder in trying to discourage Republican lawmakers from signing a petition removing Louisiana’s state of emergency and nullifying the Democratic governor’s orders restricting activity to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The petition requires support from a majority of the House or Senate to revoke the state of emergency.

Supporters say Edwards has overstepped his authority by issuing a statewide mask mandate and is crippling the economy with his business restrictions. The hospital association and other opponents of the petition effort describe damaging consequences if Louisiana becomes the only state in the nation without an emergency declaration amid a pandemic that added another 36 people to the state’s death toll Tuesday.

Nearly 3,500 Louisiana residents have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, according to the latest data released Tuesday by the state health department. The state, which once appeared to successfully reduce the virus’ spread, has returned to one of the nation’s highest per capita infection rates.

“The ability of hospitals to continue to provide critical healthcare services in communities across this state will be significantly limited if this petition receives the support of a majority of the House of Representatives,” the association wrote to hospital officials across the state.

The emergency declaration allowed the waiver of certain regulations, giving hospitals and other health facilities more flexibility to easily bring in nurses and doctors from other states, expand telemedicine services and quickly increase bed capacity, the hospital organization said. Removing Edwards’ emergency orders would strip that flexibility and cost Louisiana some federal resources, the hospital association said.

The message, sent by email Friday, encourages hospital executives to contact House lawmakers and “help educate them about the importance of this emergency declaration and what may be jeopardized if it were rescinded.”

Shreveport Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh, a lawyer who is spearheading the petition effort, said opponents are overstating the impact of the emergency declaration revocation and are “fear-mongering.” Seabaugh’s asked GOP Attorney General Jeff Landry for a legal opinion about the petition’s implications, and he’s argued the need to upend the restrictions enacted by Edwards.

“This is having a tremendously devastating effect on the economy,” Seabaugh said. “At some point, you have to balance it.”

It’s unclear how close petition backers are to the 53 House signatures required for passage because the document has not been released publicly. But the efforts from Schexnayder and the hospital association suggest opponents are concerned that passage is possible.

Louisiana announced another 1,691 confirmed cases of the coronavirus Tuesday. Hospitalization numbers are surging, and the percentage of coronavirus tests returning positive has alarmed public health experts. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

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

By: MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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