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) – New models show Louisiana’s COVID-19 cases could overwhelm the state’s capacity to care for those patients within seven to 10 days without more support from the federal government, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

He said the “worst-case scenario” can be avoided if residents follow state and federal guidelines to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, including avoiding large groups, staying home as much as possible and practicing social distancing when they interact with others.

“Our trajectory is basically the same as what they had in Italy,” Edwards said.

Italy’s COVID-19 death toll exceeds 3,400, and health care providers are being forced to choose which patients will receive intensive care based on their survival chances, according to published reports.

Louisiana, particularly the New Orleans area, has one of the highest per-capita infection rates in the country. Edwards on a conference call with the president and other governors Thursday asked for more federal help in increasing the state’s medical capacity.

The Louisiana Department of Health’s “strike team” is working with providers to increase capacity, Edwards said. Strategies may include reallocating medical staff who are no longer performing elective procedures and renovating and reopening closed facilities.

Edwards said the models predicting when the state's need could exceed capacity are subject to change based on the growth rate of the spread and how many infected people need to be hospitalized. While the number of new cases is expected to grow rapidly in the short term as testing ramps up, those numbers represent infections that happened several days ago.

“If we are doing what we’re supposed to do with these mitigation methods, then we should start to see a slower rate of new cases at some point,” he said.

Edwards has granted a request from state education officials to suspend testing and school accountability measures for the current school year. His declaration only goes into effect if federal regulators grant the state a waiver, which the governor says he expects will happen.

Requests for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in Louisiana have tripled, Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Walters said. Federal legislation may expand eligibility, and the state has applied for waivers to loosen some restrictions, she said.

As of mid-day Thursday, the Louisiana Workforce Commission had received 30,000 new requests for unemployment benefits this week, said LWC Secretary Ava Dejoie, compared to 1,700 new claims all of last week. While the LWC has moved staff to its call center to deal with the surge of requests, she recommends applying online late at night or early in the morning.

On Thursday evening, state health officials had reported 392 cases in 26 parishes, an increase of 112 cases over the previous day, and 10 deaths.

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.