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Governor John Bel Edwards speaks at one of his regular media briefings on the state's COVID-19 response, Monday, May 18, 2020 at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La.

On March 21, this newspaper published a story headlined, “Louisiana hospitals could be overwhelmed by surge of coronavirus patients: It’s frightening.”

The story was based on analysis from the Harvard Global Institute, warning “the coronavirus could dramatically overwhelm the capacity of hospitals to care for patients, leaving the American health care system unable to care for tens of thousands who are either infected with the virus or need medical attention for other ailments.”

Harvard researchers also warned Louisiana would have to triple its hospital bed capacity to meet the needs of COVID-19 patients under a worst-case scenario. And only one region in the state, a small area around Slidell, would have adequate ICU beds under researchers' most optimistic models. Worst case scenario, Harvard researchers warned Louisiana would end up 5,000 ICU beds short, “each representing a patient who could die without critical care.”

Also, in March, with fewer than 700 testing positive in the state at the time, Gov. John Bel Edwards offered dire predictions of the state’s ability to treat COVID-19 patients. The governor was quoted in the March 21 story saying the models his team had seen “showed the state's hospital capacity, particularly in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, being overwhelmed by the end of next week under a worst-case scenario.”

“This is early, but our trajectory is basically the same as what they had in Italy,” Edwards said. “And if there’s anything I said today that ought to get people’s attention, it’s that.”

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At the time, Italy’s health care system was overrun with COVID-19 patients. But that never came close to happening in Louisiana. The state’s hospital bed capacity sits at approximately 22,000. The virus at its peak hospitalized 2,199 COVID-19 patients. As of Wednesday, there were 931 coronavirus patients in the hospital in Louisiana. Nationally, fewer than 20% of COVID-19 hospitalizations require ICU beds. Louisiana has 1,500 ICU beds.

Most governors, including Edwards, shut down their state’s economy. It was all about flattening the curve, we were told, otherwise American hospitals would, like Italy, be overrun with patients. But there is mounting evidence the severe restrictions placed on our freedom and way of life that decimated our economy may not have been justified.

A study conducted by the state of New York earlier this month found 66% of COVID-19 hospitalizations came from those sheltered at home. Another 18% of the hospitalized were previously nursing home patients.

"We were thinking that maybe we were going to find a higher percentage of essential employees who were getting sick because they were going to work, that these may be nurses, doctors, transit workers,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “That's not the case, and they were predominantly at home."

The state of New York also found fewer than 1% of hospitalizations came from prisoners, for whom social distancing is close to impossible.

And then there’s South Dakota. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem refused to strip the liberties from her citizens, employing no restrictions. The COVID-19 death rate per 100,000 citizens in South Dakota is 5. Only nine other states have a lower death rate. Louisiana’s coronavirus death rate per 100,000 is 56, more than 11 times as high as South Dakota’s.

And then there’s Georgia. Conservative Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, completely opened his state on April 24. And even before that, Kemp did not order the severe restrictions we saw imposed in Louisiana by Edwards. Since late April, Georgia has dramatically increased testing and yet COVID-19 cases are down 20%. Georgia’s death rate per 100,000 stands at 16, less than a third of Louisiana’s. Louisiana has done more testing than Georgia.

Of the ten states with the highest COVID-19 death rate per 100,000 residents, 9 of 10 are run by Democrats and have employed the harshest stay at home restrictions.

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Edwards said Wednesday he hopes to decide by June 1 whether to open more of our economy. We’re currently in phase one while many other states have moved to Phase Two or Three. Several Republican legislators have urged the governor to open things more quickly. The longer Edwards delays, the more potentially permanent damage to our economy. Time is not on our side.

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