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Among other announcements, Gov. John Bel Edwards banned gatherings of 50 or more in another dramatic step to limit the spread of the Coronavirus during a press conference at GOHSEP Monday March 16, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. He also announced the legislative session is suspended until March 31st. (POOL/The Advocate/AP Photo)

Louisiana’s state government has spent north of $71 million responding to the coronavirus pandemic so far, and officials are asking the federal government to reimburse 100% of the costs as they prepare to spend more money to build out facilities to house patients who contract the virus.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said Tuesday the bulk of the expenses come from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, which is heading up the state’s response to the coronavirus that has infected nearly 1,400 people and killed 46.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, requested this week that the White House declare the outbreak in Louisiana a major disaster, saying the state has “overwhelmed our stocks of key resources needed for hospitals, first responders and emergency managers.”

If the White House grants the declaration, Louisiana would qualify for 100% reimbursement for its coronavirus expenses, Dardenne said. To move from a 75%-25% split to a 90%-10% federal-state share, Louisiana would need to spend $1 billion, he said.

“We’re spending considerable money right now to start building these secondary hospital locations and what have you,” Dardenne said, though the state is not expected to hit the $1 billion figure.

The state is looking for facilities to put beds for people who test positive for the coronavirus but may not be sick enough to need hospitalization at an existing hospital. Those facilities would open up hospital beds for patients that need them, as part of a strategy to avoid a rush of cases overwhelming the health care system.

More than $57 million of the $71 million was spent on supplies, including a long list of personal protective gear sent to hospitals and other goods, Dardenne said. The Louisiana Department of Health has spent about $7.5 million. The Board of Regents, which oversees colleges and universities, lost about $16 million in revenue, partly related to lost fees on students, and has spent more than $1 million related to the pandemic.

Dardenne’s office, the Division of Administration, has also spent more than $1 million, partly related to acquiring computers and other gear to allow state workers to work from home.

"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," Edwards said.

Edwards’ office said President Donald Trump has approved such declarations in California, Washington and New York. The governor has repeatedly pointed to Louisiana’s high rate of coronavirus cases per capita, which has alarmed officials who are trying to keep the state’s hospitals from being overrun.

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