- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2020

NEW ORLEANS | The Big Easy could run out of ventilators and hospital bed space in early April if the pace of coronavirus infection does not slow, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

In a statewide address, the governor said Louisiana is “now tied with New Jersey in cases per capita in the United States of America,” but insisted compliance with “shelter in place” orders will work.

In a grim chronology, Mr. Edwards said the Region I medical zone, which incorporates New Orleans and adjoining Jefferson Parish, authorities could run out of ventilators by April 2 and out of bed space by April 7. Those dates would be moved back or possibly be avoided entirely with a less steep infection curve.

“Despite the dire circumstances we face, I do remain hopeful,” Mr. Edwards said, noting he does not “see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Nevertheless, the governor maintains that with appropriate virus-evasive behavior, the apocalyptic “surge capacity” vision he outlined would be unlikely to occur.

“People just exercising good common sense, with that we are going to start flattening the curve,” he said. “Our future today, on the curve that we are, is not hopeful. We are not going to enforce our way through this. People need to comply.”

As of Thursday afternoon, New Orleans had 997 confirmed cases of the virus that started in Wuhan, China, last year and then spread to six continents. Adjoining Jefferson Parish had another 458 cases, together accounting for more than 60% of the state’s cases, but Mr. Edwards warned patterns in northwest Louisiana indicate the virus is spreading rapidly there, too.

As of noon Thursday, the state had recorded 2,305 cases of coronavirus, with 83 deaths. The Louisiana Department of Health did not list how many patients had recovered.

Should the rate of infection continue, Mr. Edwards said the state would use New Orleans’ sprawling convention center to house up to 1,000 additional patients in wings of 120. The Veterans Affairs Hospital in New Orleans, already coping with more veteran coronavirus patients than any other in the nation, also would be pressed into emergency service, he said.

President Trump immediately grasped the severity of the situation in a phone call Thursday, the governor said, noting Louisiana’s situation has the full attention of the White House.

“If we don’t slow the spread of this virus, this is what’s going to happen,” Mr. Edwards said. “This is not conjecture, this is not a scare tactic. If you find this briefing startling or unsettling, this is a situation we can control.”

Mr. Edwards cited the death of a 17-year-old in New Orleans to show the virus does not discriminate in victims or lethality. It is unclear if the teenager had any underlying medical issues.

“Nobody should assume this disease will not have a severe impact on them or have the potential to kill them,” he said.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, easily the most popular person in the city and who recently signed a two-year, $50 million contract, announced Thursday he and his wife will donate $5 million to Louisiana communities hard-hit by coronavirus. Jimmy John’s, a sandwich chain in which Mr. Brees has invested locally as a franchise owner, will also donate meals, he announced on Instagram.

While the city has long been an international tourist destination and has a busy deepwater port, some medical experts believe the huge parties surrounding Mardi Gras contributed to the alarming rate of infection here. New Orleans’ Carnival celebration lasts for three weeks and culminates on Mardi Gras — “Fat Tuesday” — which this year fell on Feb. 25.

The VA system in New Orleans also has been hammered, reporting more than five times the number of cases of any of the other 170 health care centers in the system. A total of 484 positive coronavirus cases were reported by the VA as of Thursday, and New Orleans’ VA hospital had 10 hospitalized coronavirus patients and was treating 110 on an outpatient basis. The next closest center, Atlanta, had seven inpatient and 22 outpatient cases.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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