Gov. John Bel Edwards

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards addresses the media about the state's COVID-19 response on March 11, 2020.

(The Center Square) – Current models show the need for COVID-19 hospitalizations could overwhelm the health care system’s capacity in the New Orleans area by April 4, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday.

That’s a more optimistic timeline than the earliest model, which on March 19 indicated a possible shortage of beds, staff and equipment within 7-10 days.

“‘Better’ is very, very relative,” Edwards cautioned, noting that the earlier projection was based on a “worst-case scenario.”

As testing ramps up, officials get a better idea of how many people who test positive will need to be hospitalized and for how long, and how many of those patients will need an intensive care bed and a ventilator. The Louisiana Department of Health has received more than 8,600 test results so far, including tests performed at the state lab and more than 6,700 by commercial labs.

The federal Centers for Disease Control has agreed to send an epidemiological team to Louisiana, Edwards said. State officials have asked the federal government for help standing up and staffing four field hospitals with a total of 1,000 beds but have not gotten an answer yet, he said.

Edwards’ emergency orders limiting group sizes and closing schools and many businesses are in effect at least until April 12 and could be extended. Though pressure is growing from President Donald Trump and others to resume normal economic activity, or something close to normal, Edwards said he is unable to provide a time frame for when that might happen in Louisiana.

In the meantime, Edwards urged residents to help reduce the spread of the virus by going out as little as possible and practicing social distancing when they do. He acknowledged not everyone is respecting the emergency “stay at home” order, which exempts many types of businesses deemed essential, but did not announce any new enforcement efforts.

As of the Tuesday mid-day update, the Louisiana Department of Health was reporting 1,388 COVID-19 cases in 43 of the state’s 64 parishes. Forty-six deaths had been reported.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.