Louisiana to receive federal field hospitals for virus

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A person drags their belonging after registering for temporary housing with city officials after being moved from a homeless encampment at Duncan Plaza to protect them from the coronavirus in New Orleans, La. Thursday, March 26, 2020. The homeless were offered housing in temporarily-closed Central Business District hotels because of the coronavirus. (Max Becherer/The Advocate via AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As the number of known coronavirus cases in Louisiana jumped 28% overnight, Gov. John Bel Edwards starkly warned residents Thursday to stay home, saying the state has edged into a tie for the second-highest rate of virus cases per capita. President Donald Trump agreed to set up federal field hospitals in Louisiana and send down public health staff to help with the worsening outbreak.

Louisiana surpassed 2,300 people known to be infected, with 86 residents dead from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, according to the state health department. A 17-year-old from New Orleans was among the latest deaths, the first in the state of someone under 18, a death that Edwards said shows “everyone is at risk.”

While Louisiana’s virus hot spot remained New Orleans, troubling signs emerged of a spike in cases in northwest Louisiana, prompting Edwards to question whether enough people were following his calls to minimize contact with others.

“You literally have it within the power of yourself to save lives,” the Democratic governor said. “We are not doing as well as we should.”

Amid the outbreak’s climbing trajectory, Louisiana received news that Trump agreed to create two, 250-bed federal field hospitals in Louisiana, providing a 60-person “strike team” of health care workers to staff the sites, Edwards said. The White House also was sending a CDC epidemiology team to help with the state’s response to “clusters” of coronavirus cases identified at six nursing homes.

The higher infection numbers reflect the increase in testing. In Thursday’s figures, the number tested rose nearly 6,600, to 18,000. Coronavirus has now been found in 53 of 64 parishes, although 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 if needed. Edwards said the center’s first 120-bed unit will be ready by the weekend.

The Morial Convention Center will be used for patients who no longer need ventilators to breathe, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.

By JANET McCONNAUGHEY and MELINDA DESLATTE

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