Less than a month ago, at least one million people came to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, one of the world’s most popular festivals, which has been observed since 1699. But now the entire state of Louisiana is facing massive fallout from novel coronavirus spreading there, which is beginning to crash its public health system.
"We have overwhelmed our stocks of key resources needed for our hospitals, first responders and emergency managers," Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters Tuesday morning. "It is still impossible to know exactly how long the COVID-19 pandemic will impact Louisiana, but what we do know is that we have more cases per capita than every state, except for New York and Washington."
At a Sunday press conference, Bel Edwards said Louisiana has the fastest rate of COVID-19 spread in the entire world. Data collected by the University of Louisiana Lafayette shows that the state is not only ahead of New York, the state with the nation’s largest number of cases, but it is outpacing European nations like the Netherlands and Denmark. So far, there are 1,388 cases and 46 deaths in Louisiana, but a little more than two weeks ago not one person had reported contracting the disease at all.
Louisiana is particularly susceptible to coronavirus spread because of a high poverty rate and widespread health disparities. At least 18.6 percent of Louisianans live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. There is also more risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and respiratory conditions, according to one study by the Louisiana Department of Health. All of which are prevalent in the African American community and all of which makes for easier infection and an increased spread of coronavirus.
“People aren’t self-quarantining because they can’t,” Jason, an emergency department nurse, told VICE News. “[You often see] a big group of people living in a small [space]—usually a grandmother with a child and grandkids… We may fail if we keep going on the current course and if the numbers keep climbing like they do.”
Others in the public health field who are diligently trying to stave off a catastrophe say that the situation is rushing toward them faster then they can handle because their hospitals do not have the capacity to deal with an onslaught of patients of this magnitude.
“Systemic collapse is a true concern,” Kenneth, a New Orleans emergency physician told VICE. “It's not Lord of the Flies today, but our supplies—face masks, personal protective equipment [PPE], gowns, beds and ventilators—are dwindling, and everyone’s getting nervous.”
The Orleans Parish hospital system is set up to serve 330,000 patients, VICE reports. The skyrocketing number could easily overtake that, Kenneth said, noting that doctors are sending patients home who would normally be hospitalized and that he is very concerned with running out of PPE (personal protective equipment) and staff as things get worse.
“If we run out of PPE, that sucks, but if we run out of people, that’s a bigger issue,” Kenneth said. “If the true frontline people with the critical care skills get knocked out, that's the collapse.”
Bel Edwards issued a stay at home order for the entire state that went into effect on Monday.
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