Louisiana Waits on Ventilator Shipment as Virus Deaths Spike
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana saw its deadliest day of the coronavirus epidemic Tuesday, as the state awaited a promised shipment of ventilators from the national stockpile to help care for its most fragile COVID-19 patients and braced for a looming weekend deadline when New Orleans hospitals are expected to run out of the breathing machines..
State lawmakers returned to the Capitol for a short introduction of last-minute bills, including emergency measures aimed at the coronavirus pandemic, as the House was rattled with news that two of its members were hospitalized with the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.
Fifty-four more Louisianans have died from the virus, bringing the state’s death toll to 239, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. Increased testing shows more than 5,200 people have confirmed infections, according to the figures, up more than 1,200 in the largest single-day spike in the number of new virus cases Louisiana has seen since its first infection was reported March 9.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday that he will extend Louisiana’s “stay at home” order through the end of April, in line with President Donald Trump’s most recent guidance. The Democratic governor’s order had been scheduled to end April 13, but he said it will be extended to April 30.
The extension will keep schools closed, nonessential businesses shuttered, restaurants limited to delivery and takeout and gatherings above 10 people banned for more than two additional weeks.
Lawmakers took precautionary measures to distance themselves in the House and Senate chambers Tuesday, the last day they could introduce bills for the regular session. They convened to read in those bills and then an hour later adjourned again until a later date, which hasn’t been set. Just over half of legislators attended — a few in masks and gloves and almost no lawmakers from the New Orleans area, which is a hot spot for the virus. In the House, lawmakers sat along the walls and in desks that weren’t their own to spread out and keep a safe distance from each other.
Two House members are hospitalized with the virus, Democratic Reps. Ted James of Baton Rouge and Rodney Lyons of Harvey, according to their colleagues. House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said he spoke to both men Tuesday and “they sounded good, very positive.” Neither lawmaker is on a ventilator, Schexnayder said.
James, chairman of the House criminal justice committee, announced late Monday that he was in the hospital with pneumonia stemming from the virus. The news was particularly jarring because James is only 37 years old.
“I hope my constituents and the people of Louisiana look at my experience and understand that this virus does not know age, race, health or socioeconomic status,” James said in a statement. He added: “I implore everyone to stay home, stay safe and save lives. I know God is in control, and I look forward to beating this and returning to work soon.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and be fatal. The disease is highly contagious.
The hard-hit New Orleans region, Edwards said, is on track to run out of ventilators by this weekend and hospital beds a week later. A desperate search for ventilators has turned up few so far. Trump has committed to send 150 ventilators from the national stockpile, the governor’s office said, but the state hasn’t yet received an arrival date. Louisiana is seeking thousands of the breathing devices.
Of Louisiana’s reported virus cases, 1,158 people are hospitalized — and 385 of those need ventilators to help them breathe, the health department said.
To meet the increasing demand for hospital beds, Louisiana is creating a new 1,000-bed hospital at the convention center in New Orleans for recovering patients who no longer need ventilators or intensive care. Edwards said the facility, which is costing an estimated $91 million to set up and staff, will open by Sunday.
In northwest Louisiana, which was seeing an uptick in virus cases, police in Shreveport said they were going to give summonses to any businesses or people that had been warned about violating the ban on gatherings, news outlets reported. DeSoto Parish Sheriff Jayson Richardson said some have “egregiously ignored and violated” the governor’s stay-home order, and his deputies and Mansfield police would be cracking down, KTBS-TV reported.
By AP reporter Melinda Deslatte