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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards looks at a monitor displaying the state's evolving novel coronavirus COVID-19 situation, at the start of a briefing of media members on the topic, Friday, March 27, 2020 at the Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management in Baton Rouge, La. State numbers at right include a total of 119 COVID-19 deaths confirmed, as of Friday, with 773 COVID-positive patients in hospitals, 270 of them who are on ventilators.

As Louisiana faces an acute shortage of ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, Gov. John Bel Edwards took to the Sunday morning news shows to warn the state could resort to retrofitting breathing devices into makeshift ventilators and even putting two patients to one machine to try to stretch the state’s supply.

“We’re doing everything we can," Edwards said on Face the Nation. "This is the biggest issue in the near term however is ventilator capacity and it is the one thing that really keeps me up at night." 

Edwards said the New Orleans area, Louisiana’s coronavirus epicenter, is on track to run out of ventilators by April 4th and hospital beds by April 10th, dates that have shifted slightly in recent days. The governor has cut a larger national profile recently, warning that Louisiana, and particularly New Orleans, has an outsized number of cases compared to its population and health care system capacity.

In the past couple weeks, Louisiana has requested 12,000 ventilators from various sources and only procured 192, Edwards said. Last week, the governor said he had asked for 5,000 ventilators from the federal stockpile and received zero.

Edwards said the state has not received assurances from the Trump administration that its needs will be met, but he said he continues to press the case and hopes to land ventilators from the federal government.  

Now state officials are exploring the possibility of retrofitting other types of breathing devices to act as ventilators, using EMT ventilators not typically used in hospitals and putting two patients on one ventilator, depending on the acuity levels of the patients, the governor said.

New data released by the Louisiana Department of Health show the New Orleans region only has 191 hospital ventilators available, out of 608 total vents in the region. Statewide, fewer than 1,000 ventilators are available at hospitals.

The number of people on ventilators because of the coronavirus has steadily increased in Louisiana in recent days. On Saturday, the health department reported 927 coronavirus patients were hospitalized and 336 were on ventilators. More than 3,300 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state and 137 have died.

Edwards’ administration has scrambled to surge Louisiana’s health care capacity, recruiting health workers, shipping personal protective equipment like masks to hospitals and ordering thousands of ventilators.

The state on Saturday received about 100,000 masks that it shipped to various hospitals, Edwards said. Spokeswoman Christina Stephens said most of those masks came from the Federal Strategic National Stockpile. 

On Sunday afternoon Edwards is set to tour the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, where the state is setting up more than 1,100 hospital beds, many provided by the federal government, for patients with the virus who become well enough to leave the hospital.


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com