Coronavirus spread to thousands of Louisianans from sick patients who showed symptoms in early March, while their infections went unreported because of too few tests, limits on who got them and delays in getting the results, state health department data show.
At stake is whether Louisiana residents plan to curtail their seasoned celebration of crawfish boils in the face of pandemic.
As of Wednesday, there were 713 cases reported in Acadiana, which the state health department defines as the parishes of Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, Evangeline, Acadia, Vermilion and Iberia. That marked 42% increase over five days, slightly outpacing the statewide increase.
Of the 13 parishes in Louisiana with the highest death rates, 10 lie along the industrial corridor that lines the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge down to the river’s mouth. And notably, every parish along the river from Plaquemines to West Baton Rouge is among the top 50 in coronavirus deaths per capita – save for East Baton Rouge, which is ranked No. 52.
Lafayette General Health lays out coronavirus surge plan, offers detailed picture of hospitalizations
The gist: Lafayette General Health has added 12 ICU beds to its main campus in the Oil Center, increasing capacity to 46, which includes creation of a separate hot zone of 10 beds in order to preserve PPE while caring exclusively for COVID-19 positive patients.
A first for the hospital, and the press. Those steps comprise Phases I and II of the hospital system’s surge plan — one it’s never before had to execute — which officials laid out in a first-ever virtual press briefing Tuesday afternoon. Phase III would activate 15 more ICU beds for non-COVID-19 patients in need of critical care, and Phase IV would open up six additional ICU beds where pediatrics is currently located.
As of this morning, the LGH system — which also includes University Hospital & Clinics in Lafayette, Acadia General in Crowley, St. Martin Hospital in Breaux Bridge and Abrom Kaplan Memorial Hospital in Kaplan — has a total of 62 positive COVID-19 inpatients. Twenty of those 62 patients are in ICU, and of those 13 are on ventilators (another 14 patients are on vents pending the results of their coronavirus tests). Of those totals, the main campus, Lafayette General Medical Center, is treating 12 COVID-19 patients in its ICU, and an additional eight are in ICU pending test results. Comparably, Our Lady of Lourdes’ system, which includes the Women’s & Children’s and Heart Hospital campuses, has a total of 13 COVID-19 patients — eight in ICU and five hospitalized as of 4 p.m. today, according to a hospital spokeswoman. The Lourdes system did not release the number of pending or suspected cases.
Lafayette General Health’s system wide ICU bed count is currently 64 — LGMC – 46, UHC – 10 and Acadia General – 8. Officials were quick to point out that other facilities in the system are treating COVID-19 patients, most of whom don’t end up in ICU.
LHG got a head start. System President and CEO David Callecod said the local system has for weeks been in daily conference calls with Ochsner Health in New Orleans (the two systems are in the final stages of a merger), giving it a preview of what was to come. “We had a two- to three-week headstart by talking [to Ochsner],” he said, noting the direction LGH got specifically for PPE preservation, treatment protocol and surge planning.
Moderated by Director of Comms Patricia Parks Thompson, the briefing included Callecod, Chief Nursing Officer Renee Delahoussaye, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Amanda Logue and Chief Operating Officer Al Patin.
No layoffs in the system. “We have not had to lay off any employees at this point,” Patin said, noting there are no plans to do so, despite the postponement of elective procedures and other unexpected changes. People have been working from home and others, like surgical nurses and surgical technicians, have been going through an orientation process to work in other areas. Officials said they are doing their best to keep high-risk employees away from COVID-19 patient areas.
No racial disparity seen in the patient population locally — yet. Officials said the patient population seems pretty evenly distributed race-wise, though they noted there has been no deep analysis conducted. Louisiana and other parts of the country have reported a disproportionate number of African American patients dying from COVID-19.
No language barriers. The hospital will continue to utilize LanguageLine Solutions, officials said, an electronic-based translation system that helps medical professionals communicate with non-English speaking patients.
In better times, many servers and bartenders are forced to cut costs around healthcare, food, or rent. Setting aside money for savings is not often feasible.
A closely watched model of the coronavirus pandemic showed a dramatic shift for the better in Louisiana overnight, but changes to the methodology used by researchers suggest that it might be too early to celebrate.
The gist: Local and national analysts warn that 30% or more of the nation’s workforce could lose their jobs because of the economic freeze associated with the coronavirus. So long as oil prices remain low — a function of an international price war and a collapse in consumption — the Lafayette metro area could see as many as 60,000 people out of work over the next few months.
Coronavirus has caused a major gap in the food economy that some local farmers and restaurateurs are hustling to fill.
The hotel, which is the city’s fourth-largest with 1,110 rooms, joins the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in providing large-scale space that can be converted into overflow facilities for patients who are infected with the pathogen but no longer need hospital care.
The first 1,000 beds at the Convention Center are expected to be ready Monday, and Gov. John Bel Edwards has mandated that an additional 1,000 beds be installed there.
Seamstresses at New Iberia-based Action Specialties are turning out thousands of mask shields for Lafayette General’s frontline workers.
The gist: Charities that help Acadiana’s financially vulnerable see mounting unemployment claims and worry about a crash of housing instability coming. Programs typically strained in normal circumstances are poised to be slammed from two sides, as job losses surge people into unprecedented vulnerability and contributions dry up.
Share the Light has already run out of money for the month. Operated by Catholic Charities of Acadiana, the program takes small donations from LUS customers and distributes them to people in dire financial circumstances. It’s not atypical for Share the Light to exhaust its monthly giving, Catholic Charities’ Kim Boudreaux said in an interview early Friday, but she warned the need will skyrocket as the bottom drops out for many families for the first time. Last year, Share the Light generated about $37,000 for Lafayette residents in need.
“If we had a million dollars it wouldn’t be enough in this situation,” Boudreaux said. Catholic Charities runs a variety of similar programs, including Slemco’s Lights On, and distributes alms from the Diocese of Lafayette. Those and other programs administered by Catholic Charities still have money available for distribution with some flexibility. But she expects the need to balloon as unemployment rises.
Acadiana’s weekly unemployment claims topped 7,000 as coronavirus hit in mid-March. Earlier weekly claims hovered just about 1,000 at the beginning of March, according to data shared at a press briefing by LCG Communications Director Jamie Angelle. More than 6.6 million have been filed nationwide, doubling last week’s claims, the highest ever on record.
“We focus on households that have an unexpected loss or expense in their household,” Boudreaux says. “We’ve always made our decisions based on somebody’s circumstances.” Now, it appears many, many more people will fit those criteria, she says.
Charities have already had to adapt to the unique challenges of a pandemic. Catholic Charities has lost availability in its homeless shelters to make space for social distancing. Food banks have had to devise strategies to store and distribute food safely without spreading the virus. Schools were pressed into duty as crisis-food centers until volunteers and workers became worried about their own health.
The signal from the nonprofit sector is that they can’t handle what’s next without major help, and that likely includes government. Catholic Charities normally selects those it helps based on acute and sudden need, given there are already too many people in or near poverty that can be helped by the program. Boudreaux notes that some federal funding coming in from the CARES Act, the $2 trillion relief package signed into law last week, could funnel through state and local channels to add stability to Acadiana’s housing needs. LCG received $850,000 in block grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the CARES Act. That may be able to be used for rental assistance, according to Leigh Rachal of the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, but it’s unclear whether it could extend to other bills like utilities.
“There’s no concern,” Mayor-President Josh Guillory snapped when asked how his office was preparing for the wave of instability at a press briefing Friday. Asked if he could clarify, he said “no.”
Local government has a lot to lose if utility bills start to fall through. LUS paid roughly $23 million in in-lieu-tax payments in 2019, consistent with historical trends, to support the city of Lafayette’s general fund. That a chunk of revenues could vanish is an area of real concern for many smaller municipalities. It’s what complicated Abbeville’s brief decision to continue disconnects altogether. That city relies heavily on its utility revenues But the scale of LUS leaves it able to absorb losses to a point. In the meantime, LUS has waived disconnection and late fees for 60 days and has not seen an appreciable decline in revenue.
Boudreaux is concerned Share the Light could see substantial declines in its donations. Normally, people elect to add a dollar or more to their bills to pay into the program. It’s not uncommon for Catholic Charities to help its clientele pay the minimum on utility bills as high as $1,200, as unpaid balances snowball, month after month. LUS does work out payment plans on an individual basis, Boudreaux says, which helps. But poverty may reach people who have never experienced such hardship before. LCG has urged customers to pay what they can to avoid a lump bill when compassion measures go away, and in the meantime directed those in need to take advantage of Share the Light, an announcement broadcast on Tuesday. Calls for help had fallen silent at Catholic Charities until LCG directed those in need to take advantage of the program. The announcement took Catholic Charities off guard.
“Our phone started ringing until late last night,” Boudreaux says, adding that it hasn’t stopped.