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Dr. Catherine S. O'Neal, infectious disease specialist with Our Lady of the Lake, speaks during a press conference, Saturday, July 11, 2020, at GOHSEP in Baton Rouge, La. Edwards announced that beginning Monday at 12:01 am, bars would be closed to on-premises consumption and there would be a statewide mask mandate across Louisiana.

Our Lady of the Lake has admitted more coronavirus patients on a daily basis over the past week than at any other time during the pandemic, and officials at the health system said they are "at capacity" and in dire need of additional clinical staff to keep up with the acceleration in hospitalizations.  

The hospital has dramatically expanded its physical capacity in recent months, but with a crush of coronavirus cases nationally, doctors and nurses are in high-demand. That shortage in staff means there are fewer beds available now than there were three or four weeks ago, said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, the chief medical officer for the system.

"Our hospital is full of everybody who needs care today," O'Neal said at a press conference Thursday. "Our resources are seriously challenged right now."

The hospital saw 25 new coronavirus patients each of the last few days, larger than any single-day increases since the start of the pandemic, and there are currently 103 coronavirus patients hospitalized. That’s up from just 17 in mid-June, when the state was moving through a phased reopening from a March stay-at-home order. 

The hospital system announced Wednesday it was halting some non-emergent medical procedures over the next two weeks to free up bed space and staff. The pause is not as sweeping as the state's mandate at the start of the pandemic, and O'Neal said decisions on what qualifies as urgent will be made on a case-by-case basis.

The hospital's ICU is no longer accepting transfers from other regions and is currently "at capacity" with 124 patients. There are enough beds and equipment on-hand to expand that number to around 200 patients, but only if the hospital secures additional staff. 

The patients range in ages, with many in their 20s, 30s and 40s, a departure from the start of the pandemic, when most patients skewed older. 

"It's a disturbing sign that this virus is not exactly what we though it was. It does affect every single person in our community," O'Neal said. "We have a wide range of ages, a wide range of demographics, a wide range of communities, all in our hospital today."

O’Neal urged the community to do their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus by wearing a mask or face covering, distancing from others and “decreasing social activity by 50 percent.” That means going to the grocery store less often, going out to eat less often and limiting the number of people you invite over to your home.


Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater