Aug 2, 2021
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript August 2
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards held a press conference on August 2, 2021 to provide updates on COVID-19, the Delta variant, and vaccine distribution. Read the full transcript here.
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Gov. John Bel Edwards : (00:11)
Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here. As I mentioned on Friday, we spent the weekend reviewing the latest COVID data here in Louisiana. We continue to confer with healthcare providers across the state, but also looking to reports coming out of the CDC and elsewhere to help determine what our next steps would be in response to this dangerous fourth surge of COVID that Louisiana and much of the country is experiencing. The challenge for us is there’s no place in the country experiencing it to the degree that we are here in Louisiana. I think today’s announcement will reflect the increasingly alarming numbers of cases, hospitalizations, percent positivity, deaths across our state. I’ve got Dr. Joe Kenner, here as usual. In addition to him, I’ve got individuals from several hospitals, business leaders who represent some of the largest industries in our state, our restaurants, tourism, or oil and gas.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:24)
They’re going to share the impact they’re seeing from this fourth surge and the need for our state to implement an immediate mitigation effort that we know will help to slow the transmission of COVID, that right now, because of the Delta variant and because of low vaccination numbers, the disease burden and the rate of transmission just unacceptably high. By the way, though, they aren’t the only people who feel this way. Starting last Thursday, I’ve started receiving requests from healthcare providers, large and small, public and private, all around the state of Louisiana to consider re-implementing a mask mandate. You see from the board in front of you, that with us today are Dr. Mark Klein, a physician and chief and Chief Academic Officer of Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. As a pediatrician, I think he’s got some information for you all that you’re going to find extremely alarming, but also useful in a sense that it should got our efforts.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (02:37)
But, we also have Dr. Phyllis Mason, Chief Medical Officer of Natchitoches Regional Medical Center, Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, System Medical Director of Hospital Quality at Ochsner Health, Dr. Katherine O’Neill, Chief Medical officer of our Lady of the Lake, here in Baton Rouge. We have Michelle Sutton, the President and Chief Executive Officer of North Oaks Health System, Stan Harris, who is the President and CEO of Louisiana Restaurant Association, and I believe all of those individuals will speak here. But not speaking today is Tyler Gray, who is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. As many of you have already seen by now, our latest numbers further confirm that we simply have to do more. Today, we reported 11,109 cases on 81,000 tests.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (03:37)
We’re up to 1,984 inpatient hospitalizations across the state of Louisiana for COVID. Today, we also report 28 deaths. That brings our total to 11,026. It is heartbreaking because if you’ve heard me say many times, and I’m sure that you all know this, those are not just numbers. Those are our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. Those are fellow Louisianans who are no longer with us, and that is heartbreaking. It has become an extremely clear that our current recommendations on their own are not strong enough to deal with Louisiana’s fourth surge of COVID.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (04:28)
In fact, nobody should be laboring under the misapprehension that this is just another surge. We’ve already had three of these. This is the worst one we’ve had thus far. Looking ahead to tomorrow, we’ve reported more hospitalizations than at any other point in the pandemic. Case growth per capita is the highest in the country and the second place state is not even close. The positivity of cases is more than 13%. I expect it will grow up again the next time we compute that, and therefore there is nothing on the horizon, no signs on the horizon that things are about to flatten in terms of case growth and so forth and start coming down. So, I hope the people across the State of Louisiana will let that sink in just a bit. We’re the worst in the country in terms of this COVID surge, and that is because of the Delta variant, which is a game-changer, and the fact that quite frankly, not enough, people have been vaccinated here in Louisiana.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (05:54)
So, today, I am temporarily reinstating the Louisiana statewide mask mandate for all people, both vaccinated and un-vaccinated when they are indoors and in public. This will be effective Wednesday. I’ve already signed the proclamation, but it’s been our recommendation since Friday before last. I’m asking individuals, don’t wait until Wednesday to come into compliance With this. There will be a lot more transmission between now and then if you wait. This mask mandate includes all children, aged five or in kindergarten, and all adults, with the exception of a few who are unable to wear masks for reasons that are spelled out in the order. By the way, that order is available online and will be, I should say, by the end of this press conference. The mandate mirrors the CDC recommendations and the recommendations to the American Academy of Pediatrics, that all people wear masks when they are indoors.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (07:04)
But it goes beyond simply a recommendation, given the seriousness of Louisiana’s COVID-19 surge, and the very obvious lack of adherence by too many people in Louisiana of the recommendation that’s been in place over the last 10 days. Simply put, there’s a dangerous amount of COVID spreading in Louisiana right now, and while approximately 43% of our entire population has taken one shot of the vaccine, only 37% of our state is fully vaccinated. So, vaccinated people are in fact, more protected than the un-vaccinated against COVID infection, and far more protected from serious illness and death. Based on recent CDC data, vaccinated individuals who do get infected have just as much virus in their systems as those who are un- vaccinated, meaning they likely can spread the virus to others simply because of the power of the Delta variant. It’s at least twice as contagious as the previous strains of COVID, and that’s why we all need to wear masks.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (08:18)
Now, I’ve already signed the order. It includes many of the small exceptions to the mandate that existed previously. However, this, as I said, is a mandate for everyone, five and older in Louisiana. It’s worth noting however, that the CDC and LDH both strongly recommended that children age two to four, also wear masks when they are indoors, in public, as they can. This is especially true because they can not be vaccinated. The vaccines can’t be administered to anyone under 12 years old, and quite frankly, we only have about 12% of kids who are 12 and older, who’ve actually been vaccinated. So, yes, this does include school campuses, everyone on a K through 12 campus, a college campus, university campus, regardless of their vaccination status are covered by this mandate. It’s vitally important that we protect our children, especially those who are too young to be vaccinated.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (09:29)
Quite frankly, there’s a dangerous and demonstrably false idea that children don’t get COVID or that they can’t get COVID or that they don’t suffer severe cases of COVID or this disease doesn’t have an impact on them. Today, in the numbers that I reported to you a while ago, 2079 of those cases are children, from today’s report. We know, we told you this last week, those under 29 are driving the surge. Young people from 12 to 18 or a huge part of community transmission right now. So, let’s rid ourselves of the notion that children can get COVID or that they can’t have serious cases of disease. We’ve got doctors here who will tell you otherwise. They treat children who are struggling to breathe in our hospitals right now. The data tells us the same thing.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (10:41)
So, there are active COVID cases among children right now, who are suffering respiratory problems, but we also have children in the State of Louisiana who are suffering from multi-system inflammatory syndrome as well. We can’t send children back into schools, un-vaccinated and unmasked. Quite frankly, we need the safest possible setting for them so that we can have as many children physically present, in person, in our schools as possible. It’s important for their education, and we know this. It’s important for nutrition, social and emotional wellness, and further, at the end of the day, those young people go home and they’re going home to parents and grandparents and they’re circulating in the community.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (11:44)
So, not only are they contracting the disease and in many cases suffering from it themselves, but we know that they will be infectious as well. The indoor mass mandate will stay in place until September 1st by this proclamation and may be extended if necessary. I hope it is not necessary. We will make that determination later. This is obviously not something that I wanted to do, but Louisiana is not in the place where we want it to be or where we need it to be, and public health and safety compel this action. I cannot, in good conscience, sit by while our hospitals lose the capacity to deliver life-saving care to COVID patients and non-COVID patients alike.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (12:47)
You’re going to hear from our hospital and business leaders in a moment, who are not only having to deal with an increase in patients, but also an acute shortage of staff. Not counting the impact that COVID is having on staff at our hospitals that are employed, you can go to the Louisiana Workforce Commission website, and you’ll see that there’s a posting there for 6,362 nursing positions that are currently available in Louisiana. I will tell you that more than 40 hospitals in our state, over the last few days have requested some staffing assistance, and the most that we will be able to deliver will be some assistance to just a handful of those.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (13:38)
So, Dr. Kenner’s going to come up and then the rest of the speakers in the order that you see them on the screen in front of you, because we do have a number of speakers. What we’re going to do is a little differently today. Every speaker will speak. I’ll come back up, wrap up, and then if you’ve got questions for me or for any of the speakers, you’ll be able to address those questions at that time. So, at this point, I’m going to ask Dr. Kenner if he would, to come up and to deliver his remarks.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (14:30)
Good afternoon. Thank you, Governor. We greatly appreciate your leadership, and to Doctors Klein, Kemmerly, O’Neill, Mason and Ms. Sutton, thank you so much for being here. On behalf of the Department of Health, we wanted to thank the teams and the medical staff and nursing staff and support staff that you represent. Knowing that after a very, very long year, this is a likely, some of the hardest points that they’re going to go through right now. So, we would ask you to convey our gratitude back to your teams for what they’re doing now, what they have done for Louisiana over the past year. Louisiana finds itself yet again, on the leading edge of a very dangerous surge that is going across the country. As the governor noted, we are both the number one state in the country now for COVID-19, in terms of new cases. We are also at the highest point or just about, we have ever been. In terms of COVID-19, in Louisiana.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (15:37)
That’s an uncomfortable thing to say out loud, and I think many would find it a shocking thing and almost be in disbelief, that this far into the pandemic, this is where we find ourselves. But, I hope after today’s comments, folks will have a clear understanding of the picture that we’re in, what our hospitals are facing, what is at stake and what we as a community need to do to turn it around. I’m going to go over some numbers that we share every time that we get together, just to catch people up as to where we are. This is a familiar graph on the top left. You see COVID-like illness. That’s the percentage of ER visits that are attributable to COVID-like symptoms, for example, cough fever, shortness of breath. As of today, 13.4% of every ER visit in the state is somebody seeking care for these type of symptoms.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (16:36)
That is the highest mark it has been at any point in time during the pandemic. On the top right, you see incidents. This is the number of new COVID-19 cases diagnosed every day, smoothed out over a seven-day average. As of today, we are averaging 88.2 new cases per day, per 100,000 residents. That is the highest point it has been in Louisiana at any point prior in the pandemic. On the bottom left, you see the combo graph with the orange bars on the bottom representing percent positivity of all tests being conducted. As of this week, 13.2% of all tests being conducted are positive. That’s the highest number it’s been here since the first week in January, and that purple line above is testing volume. As you would understand, testing volume has gone up notably in the past couple of weeks, and we ended the month of July with over 500,000 tests being conducted.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (17:38)
Of most concern to us on the bottom right, you’ll see a graph representing the number of COVID patients hospitalized throughout the state. As of today, we are at 1,984 COVID patients hospitalized throughout the state. Our first surge in March, April, of 2020, we’ve peaked at 1,991. Our second surge, which was about a year ago to date, we peaked at 1600, which we’ve clearly surpassed now. Our third surge, which up until this surge was the largest one, Christmas and new year’s surge, we peaked at 2069 hospitalized patients. We are on track to exceed that mark tomorrow, and I have every shred of confidence, unless something miraculously happens that tomorrow we will have the largest number of hospitalized COVID patients throughout Louisiana than at any point prior in the pandemic.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (18:44)
We are also seeing younger patients get hospitalized, and we are unfortunately seeing younger patients die with the Delta variant. The average age of COVID fatalities has gone down 10 years since the start of this year. It was 75 at the end of 2020, and as of this month, it’s now 65, and more concerning than, that over the past month, the number of COVID deaths in individuals less than 40 years of age has increased 566%. That’s 566%. I expect the speakers that follow me will share the challenges being faced by their hospitals and what that means for their patients and for the communities that come to rely on having quality care available when they need it. I’ll tell you, this battle has shifted as the pandemic has gone on.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (19:40)
You’ll remember, in the beginning, we were worried about PPE and ventilators. Thankfully, we have enough of those right now. We later were worried about physical space. The key limiting factor right now is human resources, it’s staffing. As the governor shared, this is a national issue. We’re about 6, 00 to 7,000 nurses short in Louisiana, even before this surge and hospitals are having to ask much more of their medical and nursing staffs who are already very tired and stretched very thin. I want to be clear. This is primarily a staffing issue. We are short in human resources. To that end, we have made rather unprecedented requests to our federal partners. We’ve asked for federal assistance in the form of disaster medical assistance teams or DMAT teams. The first one of those teams arrive in state over the weekend and is being onboarded right now.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (20:39)
We will make additional such requests, but that is a very limited resource, and we do not expect the feds to be able to provide us all the staff that we need. It’s also a rather extreme resource. You typically don’t see these DMAT teams outside of extreme natural disasters, hurricanes, earthquakes, and so forth. To have a federal disaster medical assistance team on the ground right now-
Dr. Joe Kenner: (21:03)
… a federal disaster medical assistance team on the ground right now providing staffing augmentation to a civilian hospital is quite the sight, quite the marker of how severe the situation is right now.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (21:15)
Move on to the next slide, please. I wanted to review what we know already, and this is the result of 16, 17 months experience of this pandemic. Some of those months being the leading state, I should say. At this point, it is unquestionable that universal masking has proven to be an effective strategy to reduce the community spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (21:39)
Repeated studies have shown that when localities institute universal masking, they see the transmission of COVID-19 go down. Is masking perfect? Of course not, nothing is. Will it prevent COVID 100% of the time? Of course not. Is it highly effective when employed at the community or statewide level? Absolutely. Absolutely.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (22:05)
We also know without any shred of a doubt right now that vaccination significantly reduces one’s chance of becoming critically ill or dying from COVID-19. From the best data we have right now, and again, with the Delta variant, data’s coming in very quickly… And some of it from Louisiana itself, because we are really one of the leading edge states right now, if not the leading edge states. But from the best data we have right now, when you get vaccinated, when you are fully vaccinated, you have a 25 time reduction in your likelihood of being hospitalized from COVID-19 and a 25 time reduction in your likelihood of dying from COVID-19. Vaccination confers immense benefits upon the individual who gets vaccinated.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (22:53)
Next slide, please. Over the past week or two, there has been new information learned about the Delta variant. And this, as the governor has said, changes the game. We now know the Delta variant is at least twice as transmissible as the original strains of COVID, at least twice. On average, if someone is infected with Delta, they will then infect anywhere from five to eight or nine additional people. That’s a much larger spread than we had seen previously.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (23:28)
At this point, we know the Delta variant is causing large rapid increases in infections that are compromising the capacity of healthcare systems to provide care, never more so than in Louisiana right now. But other states are experiencing this as well and I think will get to where we are within the next one or two weeks.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (23:47)
We also know that while vaccination reduces one’s chance of becoming infected with COVID-19, if you are fully vaccinated and do become infected with COVID-19, you can still relatively easily transmit the virus to other people. This is new with Delta.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (24:12)
We looked hard at very recent data that came in this past week from CDC and morbidity and mortality review reports and preliminary data from both Singapore and Wisconsin, showing that if and when fully vaccinated people do become infected… And I want to say, if you’re fully vaccinated it’s less likely that you will be infected, about eight times less likely that you’ll be infected if exposed. But if you do become infected, you will likely have as much virus circulating in your body, at least in the early days, as someone who is infected and not vaccinated. Likely inferring that you can spread that to other people as easily as someone who is not fully vaccinated, at least until your antibodies kick in a few days later.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (25:02)
This is new with Delta. And this is why with Delta, unfortunately, when we are in a surge, which we are now, it is not enough to say you only need to mask if you’re unvaccinated. Because we are in a surge and because we now know, based on the best data to date and some of it very recent data, that breakthrough cases, or people who are vaccinated yet still infected, have high viral loads and can likely transmit the virus easily to others that universal masking right now is what is needed.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (25:35)
I want to be very clear. Getting vaccinated remains highly valuable, remains the single greatest thing you can do to protect your own health. Twenty-five time reduction in your chance of getting hospitalized with COVID, twenty-five time reduction in your chance of dying from COVID.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (25:50)
But, if you do become a breakthrough case, you are as best as we can tell from the data right now just as likely to spread that virus to someone else as compared to someone who’s not vaccinated. Next slide, please.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (26:04)
To review what people can do to protect themselves and protect others right now, and nothing of this is new because we have a lot of experience with this, but I think it’s helpful to go through these items one more time.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (26:16)
Even though it’s hot outside and today storming, being outside is safer than being indoors. Transmission is much more likely if you’re indoors. If you can be outside, given the weather right now, it’s much safer from a transmission standpoint then being indoors. Crowded settings are risky, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. If you’re in a crowd, that’s a high transmission risk environment.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (26:44)
You should get tested any time you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, regardless of whether you are vaccinated or not. If you believe you’ve been exposed, get yourself tested and do it again five to seven days later. And I’ll tell you if you need help finding a place to get tested close to you, 2-1-1 is probably the best place to start.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (27:09)
Practice good hygiene, hand-washing, cleaning of hard surfaces. We don’t believe this is the dominant way that COVID spreads, we believe covered spreads primarily through respiratory droplets, but it still can technically spread through handshaking or touching surfaces. So, frequent hand washing, hand sanitizer is always a good practice.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (27:29)
Understand your risks and the risks of your family members. If you or your family are high risk by virtue of age or underlying health condition, these measures are all the more important to you because the stakes are all the more higher. The consequences are all the more higher should you or your family get sick.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (27:51)
And we would encourage individuals and businesses to work remotely, wherever that is possible and practical. If your business or your organization has the ability to conduct its work virtually or remotely, now’s the time to do it.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (28:06)
I’m going to make a few more asks of you. Number one, while we’re in this surge, do not blow off any symptoms, however mild they are. COVID can present with the classic symptoms of cough, fever, shortness of breath. They can also present with relatively mild symptoms that you can easily confuse for allergies, sinus infection, runny nose, something you picked up from your kid who’s in daycare. All of those things can easily be COVID.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (28:33)
Particularly now, while we’re in a surge, if you have any symptoms, no matter how mild, even a sore throat, even a runny nose, even sinus congestion, go and get yourself tested, limit your contact with other people until you do so.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (28:50)
I’m going to ask you to avoid emergency departments if possible. And don’t mistake me, if you are sick, really sick go to the ER and don’t hesitate. But if you have very mild symptoms or if you just need a test, I’m going to ask you until the hospitals get some more breathing room, to find other places to receive those services.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (29:12)
Testing can be found at most large commercial pharmacies and a number of other sites, 2-1-1 is the best place for that. If you have mild symptoms, if you have access to be able to call your doctor or medical provider, or perhaps go to an urgent care, those are better options right now while hospitals are struggling to meet the demand of very, very sick patients. But please don’t misunderstand me, if you are very sick, if you’re having a hard time breathing, if you think you’re very sick, do not hesitate to go in to seek care at a hospital.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (29:43)
And the last thing I’ll ask you is, take this masking order seriously. We did not come to it lightly. I’ll note that if we intend to prioritize the things that are important to us, like keeping our kids back in school in person and maintaining our growing economy by keeping businesses open, masking is the best way to ensure that.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (30:12)
So please take this masking order, seriously, both in your personal lives and your professional lives. If there’s any silver lining in all of this is that our vaccinations continue to increase and we’ve had almost about four-fold increase over the past couple of weeks. A couple of weeks ago, we were at 2000 new vaccine initiations a day and now we’re at 11,000 vaccine initiations a day. I think because people are rightfully are scared, they’re looking around and seeing people get sick and they don’t want to get sick. And that’s the right call.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (30:44)
Each of the 11,000 people that chose to get vaccinated yesterday changed their mind because they obviously hadn’t done so until now and that’s okay. It’s okay to look around and say, “You know what? It’s time to get vaccinated now,” and change your mind. I would encourage people to do that. I’ll remind people, this is our fourth search, which means we’ve been here three times already. And we know precisely how to get our way out of this. And it’s by masking, distancing, staying apart from people, being out outdoors if you can. We know exactly what we have to do, we’ve done that three times already and we surely will do it another time. But I do think it will be a challenging few weeks.
Dr. Joe Kenner: (31:26)
I’m going to ask Dr. Klein from Children’s Hospital New Orleans to come up and share some perspective of what you’re seeing in your hospital.
Mark Kline: (31:45)
Good afternoon. I want to begin by thanking Governor Edwards for the invitation to be here this afternoon. It’s a real honor to be part of this program. I’m a pediatric infectious disease specialist by training. I have practiced pediatric infectious diseases for more than 35 years. I’ve worked all over the world. I have studied pandemics and worked with epidemic and pandemic diseases for my entire career. And I have to tell you that I am as worried about our children today as I have ever been.
Mark Kline: (32:20)
This virus, the Delta variant of COVID is every infectious disease specialist’s and epidemiologist’s worst nightmare. I don’t think as Americans in our lifetimes, we have ever seen an organism that possesses the dual characteristics of the contagiousness that this virus has together with the virulence, its ability to produce disease.
Mark Kline: (32:43)
As the governor mentioned, there was a myth that circulated during the first year of the epidemic that children somehow were immune. I think there were people who said, “Children don’t get the disease. They can’t transmit the disease.” We know that those were fallacies all along, but particularly now that the Delta variant has emerged, it has become very clear that children are being heavily impacted by this organism and by this pandemic at this point, perhaps more than ever before.
Mark Kline: (33:15)
Hospitals across the state are being inundated with seriously ill COVID patients, as you have heard, and the children’s hospitals are no exceptions. When a child is seriously ill or has a complex medical condition, there are only a handful of places they can go to get the treatment that they need to survive in some cases. And those places are the designated children’s hospitals that have the requisite specialists and the equipment and the expertise to manage those conditions.
Mark Kline: (33:49)
At this point in time, to the best of my knowledge, every children’s facility in the state is absolutely full. I know that at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, we have not had an empty bed in any of our intensive care units for weeks. We have avoided going on some kind of diversion or drive-by status because of the responsibility we feel to take care of every child who needs us.
Mark Kline: (34:14)
But COVID has put a serious, a very serious strain on our ability to do that. We have had a census as high as 20 patients admitted on any given day with COVID. That doesn’t sound like a lot of patients, but to put it a little bit in context, throughout the entirety of the pandemic, back to its very beginning, the greatest number of patients ever in hospital on any given day prior to this time was seven. So we’re at two and a half times that total today.
Mark Kline: (34:47)
And we’ve had four and five and six patients at a time in our pediatric intensive care unit, and those patients require incredible intensity of care from the nurses and the pharmacist and the social workers and the doctors. And so there’s a tremendous amount of work involved in taking care of the sickest of the children with COVID. There was also a myth that children, if they did get ill at all, would only get ill if they had some kind of underlying or predisposing condition. But half of the children that we’re seeing today were perfectly healthy children who have been infected with COVID and then required admission to the hospital or to the intensive care unit.
Mark Kline: (35:33)
We test for COVID in a drive-by program at the hospital as well as through our emergency department and outpatient clinics. And the positivity rate on those tests is currently between 15% to 20% on a daily basis. So we know that the children that we’re seeing in the hospital are just the tip of the iceberg.
Mark Kline: (35:53)
As the governor mentioned, there are many others that are out in the community with milder symptoms and they are potentially spreading the infection to their playmates or to their cousins or to their parents or grandparents.
Mark Kline: (36:08)
The number of healthcare staff out ill with COVID has increased on a daily basis and this has added strain to our ability to deliver care at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. As it’s been mentioned several times, staffing is rate limiting at this point in time, not the number of beds, not the equipment, not the prep, not the existence of ventilators, but staffing. And ever increasing numbers of our staff have become COVID positive and are on isolation.
Mark Kline: (36:42)
In short, we’ve learned that the Delta variant of COVID is a whole different animal from what we’ve dealt with in the past. And as I mentioned, really, an infectious disease expert’s worst nightmare. Vaccination clearly is the answer to the question of how we ultimately get out of this. The low rate of vaccination here in Louisiana means that we are very susceptible to a truly devastating surge at this point in time.
Mark Kline: (37:13)
But ultimately, if we can encourage people to get vaccinated and maybe by learning that their children are susceptible to this disease and can suffer severe illness or even death, maybe we can encourage more adults to do the right thing, the moral thing, to take a vaccine to protect their children, even if they aren’t concerned personally about protecting their own health.
Mark Kline: (37:40)
In the meantime, we are not powerless against COVID, as has been mentioned, we have the tools at our disposal. We’ve learned so much about masking and distancing over the past year and a half. And honestly, standing to the side here as the governor made his announcement today, I have to tell you, I felt like I’d been thrown a lifeline. It was a very emotional moment for me to know that, though school will be opening, we will have tools to keep kids safe and out of the hospital.
Mark Kline: (38:14)
I can tell you at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, we’ve all been dreading the opening of schools because we just feel that that will be a catalyst for more and more cases and more and more suffering and potentially more deaths. And so I feel that this order, Governor, is really a lifeline to families and to children who want to stay safe and to healthcare providers across the state.
Mark Kline: (38:40)
So how do we protect our children today? We do it in the familiar ways through distancing, through a good hand hygiene and through masking up. And we encourage all adults who are eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible. And we encourage parents to have those discussions with their children who are over 12 years of age, and they also are eligible for vaccination and should get a vaccine.
Mark Kline: (39:12)
Finally, just one more word before I leave the podium. And that is, I wanted to mention that in a very short period of time we’re going to be talking about influenza. And this is another scenario that just keeps me awake at night. The thought of having a dual COVID-19 and influenza epidemic, we are very likely to have a very ugly year where influenza is concerned.
Mark Kline: (39:37)
Last year was a very light year, probably the lightest year for influenza on record. This one is likely to be very heavy, and that will put a lot of kids into the hospital, will further strain the system. And if you stop to think about uncontrolled Delta variant COVID-19 and uncontrolled influenza occurring simultaneously, that’s a formula for really causing the children’s facilities across the state to reach their limit and to not be able to deliver care to other children who need them. So again, thank you Governor for the opportunity to be here and I’ll turn over the podium at this point.
Phyllis Mason: (40:34)
Good afternoon. And I just want to say thank you to the governor for allowing me to be a part of this very important announcement. I think it is going to be, as you say, the Delta variant is a game changer. This is going to be a game changer too. I really believe that.
Phyllis Mason: (40:48)
I’m Dr. Phyllis Mason, I’m the chief medical officer at Natchitoches Regional Medical Center. And, I can tell you the challenges that we face at our hospital. We have two that you’ve already heard. One is staffing, and that staff is tired and demoralized, the morale is very low. But the other challenge we have at our hospital is the bottleneck that this pandemic at this time, this surge is creating for us.
Phyllis Mason: (41:12)
Because in the previous surges, people were afraid to come to the hospital. So our ED volumes were down. But now people have gotten more comfortable and so they’re still coming to the hospital and our ED volumes are up. So in addition to the COVID patient, we’re also seeing the non- COVID patient. So we’re still taking care of the heart attacks, the motor vehicle accidents, the strokes.
Phyllis Mason: (41:37)
And what we’re finding is that we don’t have the capacity to take care of the COVID patient and those other patients that are coming in for routine things, as well as serious things. And so it’s really creating that bottleneck where we don’t have the capacity on our medical floor to admit these patients even to a bed. So we’re holding patients in the emergency room-
Phyllis Mason: (42:03)
So we’re holding patients in the emergency room sometimes up to 2, 3, 4 days before we can get them into our hospital. In addition to that, other hospitals are at capacity as well. And so we’re having to hold patients in the emergency room because we can’t transfer them anywhere. And this has really created a patient, not just a patient safety issue, but a public patient safety issue. This is now not just about the COVID patient. This is about you, the general public, that we cannot provide quality care for you. Now, we’re going to take care of the COVID patients because they’re going to get admitted first. But those of you of the other patients that we take care of, you the public, we’re not able to provide sometimes routine care to you because of this surge. And so the way I think about this search right now, it really is like a boxing match.
Phyllis Mason: (43:06)
And this opponent, we’re in the fourth round of this boxing match, and this opponent is stronger, he’s bigger, he’s better, he’s smarter than us, but it’s going to take a one-two punch to knock this opponent down. It’s going to take the vaccine and it’s going to take masking. It’s a one, two punch. So I just applaud the governor and his courageous act to make this mandate possible. I know it wasn’t an easy decision for him, but I just applaud his leadership. And what I would say to the public is this, if you’re not going to trust the science, at least respect the virus. Again, if you’re not going to trust the science and get a vaccine, respect the virus and wear a mask. Thank you.
Dr. Sandra kimberley: (44:18)
Good afternoon. Thank you governor for allowing us to share our stories with everyone today. I’m Dr. Sandra Kimberley. I’m the system medical director for hospital quality for Ochsner health. And I am an infectious disease specialist and have been co-leading the Ochsner health response for the last 18 months. We actually started in January before we had our first case in March. And the governor is right. We certainly need this mass state mandate to slow the spread of this rapidly spreading Delta variant. You’ve heard it before, this virus, this variant is different than what we’ve seen of the other surges and it’s a formidable opponent. In some ways, we’re in a worse situation than we have been in the entire time. We were very encouraged by the vaccines that were on the horizon. I was thrilled in December when I was able to get my vaccine, knowing that the vaccines would get us out of this predicament and end this pandemic.
Dr. Sandra kimberley: (45:16)
However, despite the governor’s best efforts, all the efforts of everyone, people have chosen not to be vaccinated, and consequently, we are suffering under these circumstances. And this Delta variant is far more contagious and more severe. It’s causing more hospitalizations than we’ve seen in the past. But don’t be confused, the vaccines work. They may not be perfect, but they work. 90% of the people in our hospitals at Ochsner around the state are not vaccinated. Again, 90% have preventable illness that they don’t need to be hospitalized for. And we also know that if you’re fully vaccinated, that the vaccine prevents over 99% of deaths in fully vaccinated people. It prevents death. It may not prevent you getting it, it may not predict a breakthrough infections, but it does decrease hospitalization and it does prevent deaths. Again, not a hundred percent, but greater than 99 is pretty good and I think we have to be mindful of that number.
Dr. Sandra kimberley: (46:27)
So here we are urging everyone 12 and over to get vaccinated. We’re including pregnant women, lactating women, women thinking about getting pregnant and just please, everyone needs to get vaccinated. The situation is preventable. And again, people don’t need to die of COVID-19 in 2021, and it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Keep in mind, when you’re fully vaccinated, two shots for Pfizer and Moderna, you need an additional two weeks. So if everybody got vaccinated today, it would be five to six weeks before they’re fully vaccinated and are protected. So we’ve got a long few weeks ahead of us, even if everyone was to get vaccinated today. So I urge you to get vaccinated and don’t wait. And it’s okay, as Dr Cantor said, to change your mind. That’s perfectly acceptable. I can tell you again, that this COVID variant has changed how we see patients.
Dr. Sandra kimberley: (47:26)
And certainly the vaccine’s misinformation is out there and is incredibly difficult to dispel. So I urge everyone who’s still thinking about vaccines, talk to a trusted physician, a friend, people that have gotten vaccinated, because we need everyone to get vaccinated. And as everyone mentioned, our hospitals are full, our staffs are tired. We have beds, but we don’t have doctors and nurses and people who care to these patients. And again, the other patients, the strokes, heart attacks, people are waiting at home and they’re not being cared for. So I’d urge everyone to get vaccinated and please call us if you have any questions. Thank you, governor.
Katie O’Neal: (48:25)
I’m Dr. Katie. O’Neal. I’m a associate professor of clinical medicine with LSU and I’m the chief medical officer at LA Our Lady here at Baton Rouge. Two weeks ago, we stood here, just over two weeks ago, with 36 COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Today we have 155, which is our max from last April in 2020. It doesn’t sound like a lot, honestly, when you think about numbers, but we are the largest hospital in the state. We have almost 800 beds. We have 713 people admitted today and no one diagnosis should take up one quarter of your hospital. It doesn’t happen. It’s not imaginable, except for now. And we can’t tolerate it because it’s putting an incredible pressure on the rest of our patients and our hospital staff. When I left the hospital earlier, there were 23 patients on the board waiting for a transfer into our hospital for an ICU bed.
Katie O’Neal: (49:25)
Those are the ones that I looked at first. There’s no reason to even look at the med surge beds. They’re never going to get here. But you look at every single one of those ICU beds and you spend all day trying to figure out how you can staff another one? Those are 23 people sitting in an ER somewhere. Many of those ERs are not attached to a hospital at all. There is only any ER physician. Many of those ERs are attached to a hospital that does not have a critical care doctor or a sub-specialty cardiologist or a subspecialty surgeon. You have people with chest pain sitting in an ER right now while their family sit in the waiting room and they are ringing their hands and they’re calling everybody they know, “Do you know somebody who works at the Lake? Can they get me in? Do you know somebody who works at Ochsner, can they get me in?” And they will do that for days. And that patient will lose muscle, they will lose years of their life, or they will stay in that ER, because there are no more beds left.
Katie O’Neal: (50:21)
Those 23 patients are a glimpse of what we have been doing for the last two weeks, while we have been trying to get everybody vaccinated. And it’s not helping enough because it’s not happening fast enough. And when you come inside our walls, it is quite obvious to you that these are the darkest days of this pandemic. We are no longer giving adequate care to patients. That has also stopped. And you heard from each of these physicians that we no longer think we’re giving adequate care to anybody because these are the darkest of the pandemic. How do I get those patients to this hospital? How do I open beds? Vaccination is going to get us there, but it will not get us there fast enough. We will lose our friends and our colleagues because of it. But if we put on our masks, as we’ve done through the last several surges, we will see a decrease in hospitalizations again. And that will give us time for the vaccinated to work.
Katie O’Neal: (51:20)
Those who got vaccinated in the last two weeks already have protection and I doubt that I will ever see them in our hospital due to COVID-19. And if you get vaccinated today and you mask up, I doubt that I’ll ever see you. Yesterday, I drove down 190, which is one of my favorite drives, and we got to see some rice being cut, which my father’s a farmer, so that is one of my favorite scenes. We drove behind some people who were driving motorcycles and it was the end of the day so it was tolerable. We drove past some kids who were on their four wheelers, looked like they were having a great time. Usually that is an incredibly enjoyable drive and all I could think about was that I have seen people in four wheeler accidents and motorcycle accidents and farming accidents in the last two weeks who sat in their ERs, in their small towns. Those are my people. Those are your family members. And when they get maimed today, they’re not coming to a trauma center because there are no more beds.
Katie O’Neal: (52:18)
We have 67 empty beds in our hospital because we can’t find any staff. We have a federal unit on the ground who usually I meet at the P Mac during a hurricane, but now they’re inside our hospital and we can’t even open beds with them because so many of our staff are out with COVID-19. We are out of things in our pocket to open beds. We need you to open our beds for us. Please do that by getting vaccinated today, which will help us open beds in the next several weeks. And by putting your mask on today, which will help us open beds soon. How soon? I don’t know. We’ve never used a combination of masking and vaccination. We’ve always had to shut down other things and we’re not going to do that this time. We’re going to ask you to vaccinate and to mask instead.
Katie O’Neal: (53:05)
But if we all do it right now, our numbers will be better, our beds will open, and we will gladly take the Baton back from you and start to work on opening our beds ourselves. But right now we need you to do that for us. We’re asking everybody in every single parish, all over the Louisiana today to put your mask on and to go get a vaccine. Thank you.
Michelle Sutton: (53:38)
Good afternoon. I too want to thank the governor for being here. I’m Michelle Sutton, the CEO of North Oaks health system in Hammond, Louisiana. So I’m going to take a little bit different perspective. I’m going to talk from an operational standpoint. When I got up this morning, the first thing I did was look to see how many COVID positive patients did I have in our small community hospital? We had 89. I had 13 patients in the ED waiting for a bed, 10 of which were COVID positive. We’ve already opened a surge ICU. So now I’m running three full ICU’s. We had to discontinue elective surgeries so that we could turn our recovery room into a third ICU. Where do we go next? Where do we go next is, we’re asking for help to get staffing. Why? Because we have 62 employees out with COVID right now, 62. We have beds, but we don’t have people to staff them. Right now, 50% of our patients are COVID positive inside our facility, 50%.
Michelle Sutton: (54:56)
We are the level two trauma center for region nine so we’re worried what happens when a trauma comes in, where does that patient go? The other thing we’re concerned about is even though we’re on diversion, which means we’re asking for ambulances not to come to us, divert to another facility, there’s not another facility for them to go to. So when I’m making rounds, it’s not uncommon to see five, six stretchers lining up in our emergency room hallway with the EMS driver standing by waiting to offload, but I don’t have a room to put them in. In the other day, we had over 20 boarders and I had a waiting room of over 80 patients waiting to come in.
Michelle Sutton: (55:50)
Our staff is demoralized because they truly believe this surge was preventable if we had all done our part with vaccinations and with masking. We appreciate the governors standing up and asking the public to please wear a mask, help us. Our staff is seeing deaths of young people. We’re not accustomed to that. We’re here to save lives, to improve lives. Today, this morning, we had a 24 year old die of COVID, un-vaccinated. It was preventable. In the last two weeks, we’ve had 14 deaths. Most between 24 and 55 years old. This Delta variant has changed. The other thing is the employees’ morale. We actually had a counselor coming in this evening to help with resiliency and for our staff to be able to talk about what they’re seeing. I got a tax right before we walked in here to say that the counselor’s team had COVID and they couldn’t come, but they’d be here in two weeks to help our staff.
Michelle Sutton: (57:09)
To put in perspective, they’re having to make tough decisions. How do we care? When we’re doing elective surgeries, we have a core group of doctors trying to decide who gets to have surgery and who doesn’t because that operating room staff is now staffing our ICUs because we can’t find nurses. Let me give you an example of what happened last week, to summarize and put it in perspective. Our chief medical officer meets with our chief of surgery and with our OR team to look at all the surgeries for the next day to see which ones are life-threatening or which ones can we put off maybe for a day or a week? And he went into a gentleman’s room and explained we can’t fix your brain aneurysm tomorrow like we had hoped because we don’t have a critical care bed to put you in when you come out of surgery.
Michelle Sutton: (58:08)
And he put his hand on our chief medical officer’s shoulder and said, “Sir, I know this is hurting you more than it’s hurting me, but I pray for you and for your staff.” Please help us. Healthcare workers are heroic , they’re heroes. But this has been a long 17 months and we need you. Thank you.
Stan Harris: (58:45)
I’m Stan Harris, I’m the president and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. And I too want to thank governor Edwards for the opportunity to be here today. Our state and industry have gone through a whole lot since our first meeting on COVID back on March 10th in 2020, but the governor’s team has always kept the door open to us to talk about this with his office, with the department of health, with alcohol and tobacco control and the state fire Marshall. We work to develop the open safety guidelines so that we could start restarting our economy and getting people back to work, and discuss how to balance the economic opportunities with the reality of managing the spread of COVID. We’re back again. I’m a non-healthcare person, I’m a business person, and it’s scary to hear what our hospital partners are going through across the state.
Stan Harris: (59:36)
We encourage you to consider being vaccinated. It’s safe, it’s effective, it’s readily available, and it can keep you from becoming seriously ill from COVID or possibly dying. And if you’re concerned about it, talk to your doctor, just like I did. And on behalf of our association and all of our members who are the largest employer here in the state, all of these small mom and pop businesses all over our state, in every Hamlet and every district and every city, we joined with governor Edwards to ask our guests, our team members, and our operators to wear a mask when you visit a restaurant, when you visit a bar, when you visit a venue. None of us are happy that we have to implement this mitigation step, but it’s a simple one that we can all take to reduce the current spike in COVID and these cases that are stressing our hospital hospital capacity that you just heard about.
Stan Harris: (01:00:26)
Our restaurants, our bars, our venues are just starting to recover from the financial upheaval of the last 17 months. That was due to no fault of their own. And whether there’s been federal aid or other programs that come through, that hasn’t helped them recover the equity and the lost opportunity over this period of time. And many of our state operators, only 40% of those got some money in the last round of relief. So we want to help them stay in business. If you’re concerned about going to a restaurant, use takeout, use delivery, use drive-through, but our industry asks you, please mask up when you visit. And also remember to share a little bit of COVID courtesy with your server, your bartender, the cook, or the host, because they’re serving our state’s great food, our culture, and sharing hospitality with you all under the same stress that you’re under.
Stan Harris: (01:01:19)
A lot of our restaurants, a lot of our hotels are going through the same thing with their staffs, they’re going through exposures right now, and they’re having to limit their operations just because of COVID in this particular surge. So we want to have an opportunity to turn back the clock and get this under control. And we thank you, Governor, for allowing us to participate today.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:01:48)
Thank you, Stan. And I want to thank all of our speakers for being here today and the work that they do. And especially those who represent our healthcare heroes and they’ve just been doing such a tremendous job and we’re blessed in Louisiana to have so many dedicated and competent healthcare professionals, whether they’re doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, EMTs, paramedics, you name it, but they are very tired. And when you have a disease burden like we have, they get impacted by that too. Michelle told you, I think it was 62 at North Oaks. There were hundreds of staff who are out of certain larger hospital systems right now today. So that’s why this is important. Look, it’s not get vaccinated or wear a mask. It’s both. It is that one two punch that Dr. Mason spoke about. The good news is that the vaccines are free, they’re safe, they’re effective, they’re convenient. There are more than 1400 locations out there where you can be vaccinated and we can put the mask on as well.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:03:02)
And we can put the mask on as well. It is important that we do that. And if we will all do our part, if we’ll all be good neighbors, we’re going to get through this sooner and in much better shape than if we don’t. And I’m not going to summarize for you again, what all of these healthcare professionals just told you, but this is bad. And it’s not this bad anywhere else in the country today. Understand the healthcare delivery systems are sized to fit the demands of a given population. If you have the most cases in the country for your population, you’re putting more demands on your healthcare delivery system, and that’s what you just heard. Except that the way that I say it, it just sounds like there’s stress on the system.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:03:47)
What they made very clear to you is this is having an adverse impact on people’s lives today, as we speak. And the least we can do is put a mask on. It is not an onerous burden. It is not an onerous burden. So I will now take a few questions and I know we’ve been here for right at an hour already, and I apologize. That’s obviously longer than we’ve gone before, but I thought it was important that you hear from people all over the state that have a perspective that’s a little different than mine, and maybe a little different than Dr. Kanter’s as well. Yes, sir.
Speaker 1: (01:04:36)
Governor, given that we are now worse than the first and second surges and about to be worse than the third, even with vaccines, what would it take to go back to the original mask mandate with limited gatherings and closing bars? And I’m sure Mr. Harris has something to say about that.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:04:52)
Yeah. I’m not taking any tools off the table, because we’re going to do everything that we can to try to make absolutely sure that we have the capacity to deliver life-saving healthcare. And it’s already been compromised, as you just heard. We believe masking is sufficient. We just need more people to do it. And quite frankly, the recommendations we made 10 days ago did not have the desired impact on people’s behavior. So by reinstating the mass mandate, it’s our hope, our belief that we will achieve the requisite amount of compliance in order to change the trajectory and help bring this current surge to a close.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:05:40)
So I’m not contemplating any additional steps at this time, but you make a great point. This is the least that we can do. If we don’t want to start down the road again, of limiting the hours that businesses can operate, or how many patrons can be in a given establishment, or whether there are certain types of businesses that shouldn’t be open at all, we don’t want to build back there. I’m trying very hard not to go back there, but I do need some assistance. And we always try to do a good job of striking the right balance between lives on the one hand and livelihoods on the other. And that’s what we’re doing today. Yes, ma’am
Speaker 2: (01:06:27)
Governor, I feel like we went through this the last mask mandate, but does the state have any enforcement plans? And the reason I’m asking is because the people who seem less inclined to get vaccinated also seem to be the people who are resistant to mask mandates. So how do you get those people to participate?
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:06:46)
First of all, we’re never going to give up on them. We are going to work with everyone and do the best we can to communicate so that they do ultimately get vaccinated, that they do wear masks. But if you look at the proclamation, by the way, you’ll see the enforcement provision exactly the same as it was when we previously had the mask mandate in place. But we have 4.6 million people in Louisiana, tens of thousands of businesses spread across 64 parishes. We’re not going to enforce our way through this.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:07:24)
Either people are going to do what’s required, what’s necessary to achieve the result that all of these healthcare professionals are asking for, or they’re not. But masking is incredibly important to slow the transmission. And it’s not theoretical. We’re not asking you to do this because it might slow transmission. We’ve already been here before. We know that it does. And so we’re appealing to everyone to just do the best that they can to play the role that they have to play. There’s a part for everybody here, and that’s where we are. But the enforcement will be the same as it was as the last mandate was in place. Yes, sir.
Speaker 3: (01:08:19)
Governor, President Biden mentioned using $100 incentives to get people vaccinated. There was a recent drive in your home parish doing this, to some success. Is this something that you all are interested in?
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:08:33)
Yeah. And we actually were looking at that before President Biden ever made that announcement, and we’re trying to figure out exactly how to make it work. We do have the American Rescue Plan funds that are available, and we’d had to work with the legislature in order to make sure that we had them available for this purpose. But then trying to create the program itself, exactly how do you do that? But it’s something we were looking at before he made the announcement. I will tell you, we do currently have Shot At A Million still going, and there is a $1 million cash prize to be awarded. And there are many more $100,000 scholarships for those young people, 12 to 17, as well. And so we would ask you to make sure that you’re looking at that, and we do hope to be able to bring some individual incentives, financial incentives to bear soon. Yes, sir.
Speaker 4: (01:09:32)
Hey, Governor. Some parish presidents with high vaccination rates in their area have already said that they will not enforce the mask mandate, specifically the parish president in West Feliciana, he has said that he would not enforce the mask mandate. What is your response to that?
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:09:47)
Yeah, the enforcement provision is just the same as it was before. I know President Havard. He’s actually a friend of mine. I’ve known him for a while. I would just ask him and any others to take a hard look at the science, to reconsider what they just heard here, because they may have made that decision hastily and before they had any idea of what’s actually happening in our communities all across the state of Louisiana, relative to the capacity to deliver health care. Because I can promise you that it’d be people in West Feliciana and elsewhere who will suffer if we don’t get enough compliance with the mask mandate. And it is just that simple. And so I would appeal to them to do what I think is necessary. Not something that we want to do, but something that we have to. And quite frankly, I think that’s what leadership requires. And so I would just ask him and others to look at it from that perspective. Yes.
Speaker 5: (01:10:58)
Governor, if I could ask one of you and then Dr. O’Neal. I’ll ask yours first. On the vaccination front, this kind of took center stage a lot last week. I know there was some statements from LDH, but I wanted to ask you personally. There’s been discussion about a vaccine mandate at LSU. Obviously there is not one right now. The universities that have requested LDH to approve a mandate have been approved. Public or private universities can ask for that approval, as other public universities nationwide are doing that. I guess, threefold, do you think LSU can ask for that? Do you think they should? Do wish they would ask for a mandate from LDH ahead of school starting later this month?
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:11:35)
Well, they can do it under the law and LDH can grant it. Thus far, that has only happened for private institutions of higher education that have actually asked. I think every one of those that have asked have been granted, and they’ve implemented those policies. I believe I received a letter last week from LSU indicating that it would be making that request, but after full authorization was granted for the vaccines by the Food and Drug Administration. So I don’t anticipate that coming. And so what we’re looking forward to now is having the FDA give that full authorization, that licensure, so that we can stop operating under the emergency use authorization, get to full authorization, and then have the Department of Health add the COVID vaccine to the list of vaccines that are currently in place when it comes to mandatory vaccines. And when you say mandatory vaccines, under the law, there are exceptions for people who express a religious reason or some health related reason for not being vaccinated.
Speaker 5: (01:12:42)
But with students coming from all across the country, theoretically, to LSU in a couple of weeks as school starts, is there not concern from you that that will only drive this surge and continue, as a age range that really hasn’t seen a lot of vaccination kind of clamors together on campus?
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:12:58)
No, there is concern for that, and we will be promoting vaccination on that campus and on every other campus, because this happens to one degree or another at every institution of higher education, not just at LSU. LSU is the largest single campus that we have. And I can tell you that LSU has sent out postcards to all of its students, asking them to be vaccinated either before or soon after their arrival on campus. That’s something that we absolutely support. But it is my understanding that as a university, they’re not going to ask for LDH to mandate the vaccine or to allow them mandate the vaccine before it gets full FDA authorization. And so I’ll ask Dr. O’Neal to come up now.
Speaker 5: (01:13:55)
Dr. O’Neal, you obviously said when you were up earlier, you talked about more staff coming in, hospital near capacity, open beds don’t have enough staff to take care of them, painting a pretty grim picture of what’s happening not just here in Baton Rouge, but in other places across the state. Where we’re at now, it seems like it’s pretty bad and may be at rock bottom. How much worse, as far as from a hospital standpoint, and it seems like y’all are at a wall. I mean, where does it go from here, if improvements aren’t made?
Katie O’Neal: (01:14:25)
I don’t know. We’ve never experienced this before. I’m not going to imagine the worst. I never imagined we would be here. There’s no use to dwell on that. The best thing that we can do, if we’re going to have any thoughts, is to have a thought about how to not get there. And that’s what we’re focused on today. Yes.
Speaker 6: (01:14:50)
I just have a question.
Katie O’Neal: (01:14:51)
Speaker 6: (01:14:52)
Sorry. We keep talking about the Delta variant. Now there’s something, the Lambda variant. Should we be concerned at all about that, or can you clarify that?
Katie O’Neal: (01:15:02)
We should be concerned about every variant that’s to come. Unvaccinated individuals and individuals who are infected are variant producers. Viruses have and develop variants because they replicate. If you don’t want to see another variant in this community, get vaccinated, put on your mask, and stop replication and we’ll stop worrying about variants. Should you be concerned? You should be concerned about further variants, because we are having unmitigated spread of the virus in the community. And if we get vaccinated and put on our masks, we’ll stop that and we won’t have to have these concerns any longer.
Speaker 6: (01:15:36)
Speaker 7: (01:15:38)
Katie O’Neal: (01:15:39)
Speaker 7: (01:15:39)
Can you talk about perhaps some of the treatment that you’re able to provide to COVID-19 patients, as well as maybe how long they’re having to stay hospitalized?
Katie O’Neal: (01:15:53)
COVID-19 patients undergo a variety of different symptoms, and so the treatments are mostly to alleviate their symptoms. There are some EUA approved drugs that we do use. I can tell you that they are based on far less science than the vaccine. The vaccine is the most studied prevention and protection against this virus. When you come into the hospital, the only thing that we give for COVID-19 that we have lots of experience with are steroids. After that, every drug we give are based on small studies that we hope in the end will help. We throw everything at a patient, and we’re not sure that any of them actually make a big difference. Steroids make a big difference. And we do apply those drugs to everybody who we can. We ran out of one of our drugs today, because everybody in this country is seeing a surge at the same time, and they’re pulling on all of that medication.
Katie O’Neal: (01:16:58)
I don’t know if that medicine makes a big difference, but we give it because we’re trying everything to try to save your life. So to answer your question, we use a lot of drugs. Most of them are EUA approved. We do everything we can to save your life, but mostly we’ll hold your hand and we’ll help you make it through it. Your hospitalization is totally and completely going to depend on how you do, and that is more to do with your immune system than it is to do with the drugs we give.
Speaker 7: (01:17:20)
Which drug did you run out of?
Katie O’Neal: (01:17:22)
Actemra. We’re at a deficiency of Actemra. Multiple hospitals around the state of seeing the same thing. Again, EUA approved. We just started using it within the last weeks to months. I can’t keep up. It’s a relatively new drug. It’s just to get inflammation down. The same thing that steroids do. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 8: (01:17:44)
[inaudible 01:17:44] for Miss Sutton.
Speaker 9: (01:17:52)
Just so I’m clear, when you talked about having 62 employees out with COVID currently, can you tell me out of how many employees you’re talking about and can you also tell me how many beds are in your hospital and what your vaccination rates are of staff?
Michelle Sutton: (01:18:07)
Sure. So we have 2,700 employees. So 62 out of 2,700. We’re licensed for 330 beds, but I can’t staff that many. So today, we’re only staffing a little bit over 200 beds because we don’t have the staff for it. As far as our vaccination rate, we’re ahead of the state, but it’s still not where we want to be. We’re at 43% fully vaccinated.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:18:46)
Okay. I think we’ll do one more if there’s a question. Yes.
Speaker 10: (01:18:50)
Do you have any information as far as the breakdown in the parishes of the unvaccinated?
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:18:56)
No, I don’t. I don’t have that.
Speaker 11: (01:18:59)
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:19:00)
Okay. So it is online. If you’ll go to LDH, you’ll see the database there. What we know is it’s not enough, and there is some difference from parish to parish. But statewide, we are still in the 37%, I think it is, that are fully vaccinated. A little over 40%. I’m sorry, 37% have started the vaccination. A little over 40% have… I guess I keep getting that wrong. A little over 40% have started. And I think 37% are fully vaccinated. So it’s not anywhere near where we have to be. And again, if right now, on average, a state with less than 50% of its people vaccinated has three times as many people in the hospital as states that have more than 50% vaccinated. That’s another indication of how well the vaccine works. And we also know that that masking works too.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:20:04)
And that brings me back to the point of this press conference today, and that is that we have to do our part to slow transmission, to reduce the demand on our hospital system. We have to do that now in order to buy ourselves the time necessary to get people vaccinated and so that we can reverse the current trends, which are the very worst right here in Louisiana of any state in the country. That’s a miserable place to be. I know it. This is not the press conference I wanted to have today or any other day, but it just happens to be where we are. And so if you’re a citizen out there, or if you’re a parish president, or if you’re sitting on the school board or whatever, and you’re thinking, “Man, I just don’t want to do this.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:20:57)
What public health expert are you consulting? What epidemiologists are you talking to? What data are you looking at? Have you looked at the mobility and mortality weekly report that came out last Friday from the CDC? Did you hear a word that was said up here by these healthcare professionals as to what’s happening in Louisiana? Do you give a damn? I hope you do. I do. I’ve heard it said often, Louisiana is the most pro-life state in the nation. I want to believe that. It ought to mean something. In this context, it ought to mean something. I invite your prayers for all the people of Louisiana, especially for the healthcare heroes who are exhausted, who are tired, physically, emotionally, mentally drained. And let’s don’t just pray for them. Let’s do our part to reduce the demand that we’re placing upon them. And the life you save, may be yours, or it may be your child, could be your parent, your neighbor. Thank you.
Gov. John Bel Edwards : (01:23:01)
Speaker 12: (01:23:20)
Okay, y’all. I anticipate that we may do this again with fewer guests at some point later.