Louisiana Officials Report 68 More Coronavirus-Linked Deaths

Virus Outbreak Louisiana
National Guard personnel walk outside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center during a media tour of a temporary hospital that has been set up, as an overflow for local hospitals that are reaching capacity, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in New Orleans, Saturday, April 4, 2020. Phase one of the operation can house 1,000 patients with the capability to double that capacity as needed. The facility will open April 6. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana health officials reported 68 coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, marking the state’s biggest jump in reported deaths since the outbreak began.

The Louisiana Department of Health reported the figures on its website Sunday. The number of infections reported to the state also increased by more than 500 cases from 12,496 to 13,010.

Before Sunday, the largest number of deaths reported in a single day was 60. The numbers represent when the tests were reported to the state, not necessarily when the infections or deaths occurred.

Dr. Alexander Billioux, assistant secretary of Louisiana’s Office of Public Health, said in a statement that it was a “large increase” but that it’s important to note that not all the deaths occurred over the past 24 hours. He said authorities are analyzing the cases to determine when the deaths occurred and will release the information in coming days.

In New Orleans, the number of reported deaths went from 153 to 161 while the number of infections increased from 3,966 to 4,066 over the 24-hour reporting period. A total of 477 people have died in Louisiana as a result of the new coronavirus, according to state figures.

For most people, the new coronavirus strain causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and be life-threatening.

Louisiana and the New Orleans area have been an epicenter for the virus, and Gov. John Bel Edwards has repeatedly warned of looming shortages for ventilators and intensive care units. In an interview on CNN Sunday, Edwards said the New Orleans area is expected to exceed its ventilator capacity around April 9 and ICU bed capacity days later.

The state is transforming the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, a sprawling complex usually used for conventions, into a medical support facility to ease the burden on local hospitals. The convention center-turned-hospital is set to open Monday. It will be used to house those with less severe symptoms, freeing up more space at hospitals to take care of the most critical patients.

Rebekah Gee, who heads the Louisiana State University’s health care services division, said when it comes to getting equipment like ventilators or personal protection equipment there’s been a lot of confusion. Gee, who used to head the state’s Department of Health during Edwards’ first term, said she personally spends a lot of time on the phone, trying to secure equipment from vendors.

Gee said one of her colleagues actually went on eBay to buy some gowns and then had to drive an hour and a half to pick them up. In another case, her department ordered some equipment from China a few weeks ago that was stalled for weeks in Hong Kong.

She’d like to see the federal government take a more active role in distributing medical equipment and gear, relying on data to figure out where are the greatest needs instead of “having this eBay of ventilators.”

“Our whole country is at war with this virus,” she said. “There’s only a certain number of ventilators in the world. This needs a coordinated approach and right now that’s not happening.”

To halt the spread of the virus, Edwards has ordered schools closed, limited restaurants to takeout and delivery and shuttered businesses deemed nonessential like gyms, hair salons and bars through the end of April in hopes of lessening the state’s outbreak. Churches across the state have stopped in-person services.

In heavily Catholic Louisiana, the state’s Catholic population struggled to celebrate Palm Sunday. Rev. Emmanuel Mulenga is the pastor at Saint Augustine Catholic Church, a nearly 200-year-old church in the city’s historically African American Treme neighborhood. On Palm Sunday the church would normally have a special ceremony to commemorate Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem in which people were said to throw palm fronds in his path.

This Sunday, he still gave out palm fronds to parishioners while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. He blessed the fronds and put them on a table near the back of the church where people could easily spot them when they came in the back door. About 50 or 60 parishioners turned out, Mulenga said.

“Despite the social distancing … the spiritual aspects of our lives, faith, still continues, and I personally believe that under the present circumstances we need those personal connections and prayer even more,” he said.


By AP reporter Rebecca Santana

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