Mar 25, 2020

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards Coronavirus Briefing Transcript

Louisiana Governor COVID-19 Briefing
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Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards provided a press briefing on March 25 for COVID-19 in the state. Read the transcript of his speech here.

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Gov. John Bel Edwards: (00:03)
Be nice to have to wait. Good afternoon everybody and thank you for being here today for tuning in, whether this is on radio or on TV. Obviously, this is a rapidly evolving and escalating public health emergency. We have things happening obviously here on the ground in Louisiana, but we’re also following developments in Washington DC out of the white house and out of the halls of Congress.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (00:31)
So it’s more important than ever that we communicate accurately and timely to get information to the public. First, I want to start by thanking President Trump for signing my request for a major disaster declaration for Louisiana. I submitted this request yesterday and it was promptly approved last night. And I also want to thank our congressional delegation, because I know that they supported our request for that declaration and that certainly includes all of them, but Senator Kennedy, who I know contacted the white house personally last night requesting to the president that it’d be signed.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (01:10)
This will speed the flow of funding to FEMA-approved expenditures and make crisis counseling available. The declaration should also allow for additional resources from the federal government and provide us with more tools and equipment to treat the sick and to increase our hospital capacity. This declaration brings the national conversation and we are not being left out of that conversation. We’re talking about allocating resources to hard hit areas around the country.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (01:43)
In total, and this may have changed just before I walked in, if it did, I apologize. There are five States currently with the federal [inaudible 00:01:51] California, Washington, Louisiana. It looks low also like the Senate is poised to pass a relief package that will be immensely helpful. That language is still being ironed out, but we understand an agreement and principle is in place. We are working very hard even right now to get our hands on that language, so that we can lean as far forward as possible to identify all of the benefits that we can take advantage of, whether it’s funding, flexibility, any other measures that will provide assistance to Louisiana. To Louisiana itself, to local government, to businesses and employees, you name it.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (02:35)
We are looking for every bit of assistance that we can make available, so that we can do that just as quickly as possible. We also have concerns about making sure that there is relief, especially for workers who are not employees. They may be self employed or they may be 1099 contract individuals. So they’re not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits and we’re receiving a lot of inquiries from these individuals. We believe that there will be some assistance in this regard in the bill, but it’s not certain yet what that looks like.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (03:13)
I want to get to today’s case count, which we update now every day at noon and I will tell you the case count is very sobering. You can see it here. We now have 1,795 cases in the state of Louisiana and 65 deaths that are attributable to COVID-19. [inaudible 00:03:30] … Increase of 407 cases since yesterday, I believe that is an increase of 19 deaths.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (03:40)
They’re 48 of our 64 parishes presently with the case of COVID, but I can assure the public COVID is present in every single parish across the state, and so nobody should look at that map and think, “Oh, I live in one of the parishes that’s still showing zero.” This virus has spread across the state of Louisiana. This is real, and our state and everyone in it needs to take it very seriously. It is of the utmost importance that we follow the mitigation measures that we have in place. These are measures that we know will work, but they will only work to the degree that people comply with them.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (04:23)
And so I am urging all Louisianan’s again to make sure that you’re doing what we’ve asked of you. Make sure that you are limiting contact, limiting travel, doing only essential things when you leave the house and not leaving the house more than is absolutely necessary. Follow those social distancing guidelines. So keep six feet from yourself and someone else when you just have to be in the presence of other individuals.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (04:52)
Make sure that you continue to wash your hands with soap and water vigorously for 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available. Control your cough, stay home when you are sick. That remains critically important. And I do want to thank everyone across the state of Louisiana who are heading these measures. We know that compliance is increasing but we also know we are not where we need to be.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (05:18)
Everyone needs to do their part to fight this virus and we’re going to have to stick with these measures as long as it takes to make them pay off. We have to start flattening the curve. We haven’t seen that yet and so we have to slow the spread and extend the duration of this again, so that we do not present more patients to the hospitals than we have the capacity to care for.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (05:44)
We have all watched this play out in the previous weeks and months and other places around the globe, and now we’re seeing it play out around the United States and right here in Louisiana. With the numbers where they are we are already placing severe demand on our hospitals and on our personal protective equipment, and you hear this quite often referred to as PPE. Let me be clear about this, our ventilator capacity is far from okay in Louisiana.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (06:11)
The problem isn’t just that the cases are growing every day it is that they’re growing rapidly every day, and this alarming growth has a devastatingly fast impact on our resources and the ability to take care of people. You’ve heard me say previously that Louisiana saw the fastest growth rate in positive COVID-19 cases in the first two weeks than just about anywhere else in the world.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (06:38)
As previously mentioned also, one of the consequences of this is ventilator capacity. And in fact in talking to the department of health and the office of public health, this is probably the most significant near term issue related to our capacity to treat COVID-19 patients. We’re not unique in this regard. You’ve seen other States making the same statements.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (07:07)
And it’s not all due to COVID-19 by the way, there are always patients in the hospital, especially during flu season and we’re on the tail end of flu season, but it is still a significant factor in our state and other patients in the hospital at any given time with respiratory problems that require them to be on a vent. Their treatment requires that ventilator, they require that ventilator to live. And then you add to that the increasing number of COVID patients who need ventilators and that’s why we are seeing the capacity with respect to ventilators be eroded in a way that quite frankly is alarming.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (07:48)
If our growth continues, we could potentially run out of vents in the new Orleans area in the first week in April. And of course this depends upon whether the curve gets flattened or whether the trajectory stays where it is, and it also depends on our ability to procure and allocate timely ahead of the first week in April additional ventilators. There is a tiny bit of good news. We’re actually distributing 100 ventilators today to the region one area around new Orleans.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (08:20)
We do believe that over the next few days, tomorrow there’ll be another 100 ventilators, and we think that we may have access to an additional 100 ventilators early next week. But I don’t count tomorrows and I don’t count next week, because we don’t have them in hand. But assuming we get those ventilators, that’s a total of 300 that we will have allocated and we’re going to continue to try to get more, but even if we allocate [inaudible 00:08:47] just in region one, we’re still 600 ventilators [inaudible 00:08:52] and we haven’t even begun to get to the Baton Rouge area and the Shreveport area and they’re going to need additional ventilator capacity as well.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (09:01)
And with respect to ventilators, we’re competing with every other state in the nation, and we’re competing with many other countries across the globe as well, not just for ventilators, but that remains the case for acquisition of PPE, things like masks and gloves and we have requested and we have received supplies from the National Stock Palm and from private vendors as well.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (09:29)
And we are grateful that we’ve been able to receive what we have, but quite frankly, it is not enough. We zero out the warehouse every day. We receive supplies, breakdown the supplies, and usually turn them around in about 24 hours. To make this happen the national guard, the soldiers and airmen are working extremely hard, doing some terrific work for all of us, but they’re making shipments as late as three o’clock in the morning, or I guess you could say as early as three o’clock in the morning. Most of the masks that we have received up…

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (10:03)
Most of the masks that we have received up to date, and it’s about a hundred thousand of these N95 masks. Most of those have come from the strategic national stockpile. A little bit of good news. I’ve been in contact today with Tim Cook, the CEO with Apple. Apple is donating a hundred thousand N95 masks to the state of Louisiana. We hope to have those in our state, in our warehouse, so that we can allocate them very, very quickly, and I want to thank him, and the generosity of the people at Apple for making that possible. To say that demand is outpacing supply would be a gross understatement. As you’ve heard me say over and over again, our healthcare workers are heroes. And they’re working extremely hard under difficult circumstances in order to preserve life. And I want to thank them again, and I’m asking everyone to lift them up in prayer, and do what we can to support those individuals. One of which is, making sure that you’re doing what we’re asking you to do with respect to the mitigation measures. So that we can reduce the patient count, flatten the curve, and make their lives easier, make their PPE stretch further, and so forth. I want people to know that we’re doing everything that we humanly can to deal with this emergency, and I thank all of our partners at local government, I thank all of our partners in the federal government, and certainly all of the people working at the state level as well. But our efforts really are going to be in vain, to a very large degree, if we don’t get people to do their part by following the stay at home order that I issued on Sunday, and that was effective at 5:00 PM on Monday. I know that there are many people paying attention and abiding by the directions in that order, but I’m still hearing from some parts of the state where compliance is less than we would want it to be.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (12:05)
And so I’m encouraging everybody to be a good neighbor. We know what it means to be a good neighbor to one another, because we’ve been doing that for a long time. And we know how to come together in times of disaster and emergency, but this one is a little different. Rather than rushing to your neighbor in order to provide assistance, you’re a good neighbor when you stay away. And pick up the phone and call them, you can FaceTime them, you can Skype them, check on them, and we want people to stay in contact with one another, but virtual contact, not actual physical contact. Finally, I want to address those who are filing for unemployment claims. I understand that many people were having problems resetting their passwords in order to file. If anyone needs assistance with their username and password, please email hire, H-I-R-E, Hire@LWC.LA.Gov, with the subject password reset. And include in the email your name, phone number, and the last four digits of your social security number. We are also putting information on our website which is LA.Gov.LA/Coronavirus.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (13:17)
As I said yesterday, our blood banks are critically low in supplies, so if you’re healthy, and are not showing any symptoms, please consider donating blood. It is safe both to donate blood, and to receive blood, but we are running low. Food banks are also running low in donations, and I know a lot of you are struggling, but if you are able to make a monetary donation to a food bank, please do that. As little as a dollar can sometimes feed up to four people. So I would ask you to go to FeedingLouisiana.org, and make that donation if you can. This is a rapidly evolving situation. We will continue to update you as things happen, and we have additional information to share with you.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (14:03)
As always, I ask the people of Louisiana to join their prayers, join your prayers to mine, for healing and protection. We’ve been through many trials together. We’re going to get through this challenge as well, as one Louisiana. So with, that I’m going to take your questions. I do as I normally do, have Dr. Alex Billioux here, from the Department of Health to address questions that may relate to testing. Yes sir.

Speaker 1: (14:32)
Governor, on the ventilator issue, can you talk more about where exactly we’re looking for ventilators? We’ve obviously got a lot of national attention in recent days. How exactly does that help us, and you mentioned the federal stockpile. Are we getting vents from the federal stockpile, and if so, how many?

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (14:48)
I’m not aware of ventilators from the federal stockpile. I’ll get that answer to you soon. We are contacting vendors, and by the way, our hospitals are also trying to source ventilators from the vendors that they would normally acquire them from. We are working a list of vendors as well, and we have requested them through the federal government. And again, I’ll let you know whether we’ve gotten any from the federal government soon, but this is a very, very difficult item to find, because everyone is looking for them all at the same time. And they’re just, they’re in very short supply.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (15:27)
The demand is high. We do have additional strategies to create ventilator capacity by retrofitting existing breathing devices that are not really ventilators, but they can be made into ventilators by retrofitting them, and by changing them. And we’re identifying those devices, and making sure that our hospitals are taking that into account and that we use that particular technique in order to increase our capacity as well. But this is the nearest term big issue related to capacity to render the care in our hospitals that we know that we’re going to need, based on current modeling. Yes ma’am.

Speaker 2: (16:16)
I want to ask the question about housing [inaudible 00:16:19] patients. Will you guys ever consider using the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in new Orleans?

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (16:25)
Yeah, so we have several strategies and we’re going to be making an announcement very soon, because we know we need additional medical monitoring capacity. It would be like a step down unit. One of the ways that we can increase the capacity of our hospitals to deliver care to more patients is when a patient is sufficiently recovered, and no longer needs to be in an acute care bed, or an ICU bed, that we have another place where they can go, that frees that bed up, makes it available to someone who does need that level of services. And so strategies that we’re looking at, and we’re going to make an announcement on that. I will tell you, we are giving consideration to the [inaudible 00:17:02] convention center for this, and some other places as well. And we will have more information soon on that. Yes ma’am.

Speaker 3: (17:13)
And another question is, I see the numbers here, but can you elaborate on how many people may have recovered from this virus?

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (17:20)
Well, first of all, it would be entirely speculative for me to say that we have had one person, 10 people, a hundred people recovered, because it’s not something that we are able to track at this time. And by the [inaudible 00:17:40] we’re actually looking to… as to what criteria needs to be met, before we can say that they are in fact recovered. I don’t believe any state in the nation right now is reporting data with respect to recovered individuals. And in fact, I’m just going to ask Dr. [inaudible 00:08:02], he’s sitting over there and he’s waiting to come up here and respond to a question. He knows more about this than I do.

Dr. Billioux: (18:13)
As the governor said, we’re not aware of states that are able to report that at a large volume with our entire population, we do know that, [inaudible 00:18:22] and that most people that have COVID are having mild illnesses. The CDC has given us recommendations on identifying people who are recovered, both by testing, which these days is not our preferred method, because we want tests to be going to finding folks who need to know their status. Rather, we’re looking at symptoms. So the CDC says if your fever is [inaudible 00:08:46], without having to take a medication to get your fever down, your symptoms are significantly improved for three days in a row, we would consider that your COVID is likely recovered. The challenge is we have to talk with individuals to get that information. And so what we’re looking at is how would we as a state have that information? [inaudible 00:19:03] make sure the folks who need care at the moment are where we’re focusing our efforts.

Gov. John Bel Edwards: (19:09)
Thank you. Yes sir.

Speaker 4: (19:11)
I guess maybe another question for Dr. Billioux, about 35% of the fatalities, [inaudible 00:19:16] individuals that are 60 or younger. What do you make of that, when you take a look at the age range [inaudible 00:19:23] people who are dying?

Dr. Billioux: (19:24)
So you know, [inaudible 00:19:27] to COVID, is tragic. We are [inaudible 00:19:30] data not only in the state of Louisiana, but across the country. Early on we had data from China, Korea, more data coming from Italy, [inaudible 00:19:40] like our populations may be a little bit different. We know that the kinds of things that put somebody at risk for not doing well with COVID [inaudible 00:19:47] age, but also underlying medical [inaudible 00:09:49]. And so when you think about the things that we’re looking at, diabetes, high blood pressure, other concerns to the immune system, it may be that, and we know that we have more of that in our state than [inaudible 00:20:03]

Speaker 5: (20:02)
…More of that in our state than [inaudible 00:20:03] other populations. And that may be one of the reasons.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (20:09)
Yes. Melinda,

Melinda: (20:11)
[inaudible 00:20:11] terms of the… It’s along the same lines as the convention center. I know the letter that you sent seeking the Federal Disaster Declaration also talks about Louisiana buying [inaudible 00:20:20] the UL assistant president talked about dorms as possible [inaudible 00:20:25] for housing people after they leave the hospital. Are those still being considered as well?

Governor John Bel Edwards: (20:29)
Well we cast a wide net to take an inventory of available spaces that could be used as these medical monitoring stations, these Step Down Units that we just talked about. And we wanted to find out what the inventory was, get the doctors together and get the National Guard together to figure out what would be required to stand them up as an operational Step Down Unit, and which would be the most desirable from a medical perspective, especially as it relates to staffing.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (21:05)
So I will tell you, there were a lot of things looked at including dorms, which are not being used currently on most of our campuses or at least not to the degree that they have been in the past. But I can tell you we are no longer presently looking at dormitories and we are presently continuing to look at hotels in various parts of the state that may be able to serve this function.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (21:36)
It’s very difficult, and I mentioned this before, when you create what is essentially a hospital but it is not connected to an existing hospital, the staffing becomes a real challenge. And staffing is even a bigger challenge if you create lots of smaller hospitals. And then you have the logistical problems of getting the staffing to where they need to go. But you also have to get all of the supplies, the PPE, the pharmacy, the wraparound services that you need. And so as we work through this, we inevitably work our way towards looking at a large capacity facility where we think we can build out rapidly the capacity that we need from bed space to equipment and then have a much easier, but not easy time, to staff as well. And so that’s why some of the areas that we initially considered are no longer on the table.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (22:42)
Greg?

Greg: (22:44)
Today was the biggest one-day spike in both cases and deaths. Is that an indication that it’s still on a worst case trajectory or just more testing?

Governor John Bel Edwards: (22:52)
Well, it’s both and we need more data. And I say both, I’m not hedging but it’s a fact. 1000 tests in the [inaudible 00:23:04] As of yesterday to more than 11,000 today. And so we almost doubled the number of tests that had been administered. The good news is we didn’t double the number of cases, but the number of cases that were new and added today were 407. Yesterday that number was 216, the day before was 335.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (23:27)
And so until you have more data points, you don’t really know. I am troubled because if you just look at this from a perspective of case growth, we’re staying on that curve that we were on before. But more testing is always a good thing because the facts are whatever they are and and we hate being in the dark. And so we like having more testing and I assume that the number of tests administered every day will continue to [inaudible 00:03:56].

Governor John Bel Edwards: (23:58)
It’s a clearer picture of what we’re dealing with, but the [inaudible 00:24:01] Our case growth continues to be very alarming. We have not begun to flatten the curve yet and that is the number one message that I’m trying to deliver to the state of Louisiana. We have a long way to go. We have to do better at our mitigation measures and we need for those mitigation measures to start showing up in this data before we can draw an easy breath.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (24:24)
Sam?

Sam: (24:25)
Governor, back on the ventilator issue, have you guys requested ventilators from the federal government and if so, how many? And also, what is the projection for how many people are going to need ventilators as part of that model you talked about for the New Orleans region?

Governor John Bel Edwards: (24:39)
I am showing that we have requested about 2,000 ventilators. I am unable to tell you presently with the information I’m looking at how many of those would have been requested from the federal government via the national stockpile, how many that we were trying to source from a vendor, so Sam, I just owe you some more information on that and I’m sorry.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (25:02)
The second question was what?

Sam: (25:05)
You talked about in this projection that we’re going to run out of ventilators in the New Orleans area. How many people do we project are going to need ventilators that underlies that prediction?

Governor John Bel Edwards: (25:17)
Obviously more than we have. I don’t [inaudible 00:25:19] number with me at the moment but I will get that information to you as well. We’re looking at information and it changes a little bit every day, both as to what we believe the demand is going to be and what we think the supply is going to be.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (25:45)
Obviously the supply isn’t growing anywhere near enough to make us feel comfortable, but we know that in the first week in April, we run a significant risk of not having the ventilators that we need to treat [inaudible 00:06:00].

Governor John Bel Edwards: (26:02)
…Will require a ventilator for [inaudible 00:26:04] …In region one, in that area around New Orleans. But you can look at the case numbers in the Baton Rouge [inaudible 00:26:13] area and then go up to Caddo and Bossier and you know that there’s every likelihood that they’re shortly behind that and so, ventilators are critically important.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (26:24)
Greg.

Greg: (26:25)
Outside of the primary concern for people’s safety and health, the more feedback I’m still getting is that they need some guidance for students and their parents. And I know I asked you this yesterday, and you said that the Department of Ed was working on it, but whether or not these students, if they don’t go back to school, will be advanced a grade. Are they any closer to deciding those scenarios yet?

Governor John Bel Edwards: (26:49)
Well they’re one day closer, but I don’t have any more information than that to share with people. And anything that I said right now would be more speculative than fact. And I’m just not going to do that. They’re working, it’s going to depend on how long the schools are out, if they go back this year, how much time do they have to administer tests and so forth. But I can assure you the Department of Education led now by Betsy and under the direction of the BESE Board, they are working on this and they’re working in coordination with our school district superintendents around the state of Louisiana.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:29)
In the meantime, I encourage every parent, everybody out there who has these children who we all agree should be in school [inaudible 00:27:37] …Keep them engaged in things [inaudible 00:27:42]

Governor John Bel Edwards: (27:43)
And we have programming on LBB, we have learning, we have information that is flowing every single day through school districts to principals and teachers. And we’re trying to get that information to parents. And so I encouraged them to do that.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (28:00)
Regardless of when they go back, because I can’t answer that question today, we want the least amount of regression to happen with respect to these children’s education in that time period.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (28:10)
Leo, did you have a question? Yes sir.

Leo: (28:15)
I wanted to find out [inaudible 00:28:16] forecasters on Wall Street now are saying that [inaudible 00:28:20] were set for GDP for the second quarter. First down quarter in 129 quarters, almost [inaudible 00:08:27].

Leo: (28:28)
We’re caught in the unique situation of where we are [inaudible 00:28:31] crossfire between Russia and the Saudis [inaudible 00:28:36] $3 under what our budget is based on. At the same time when you’re spending money that we really didn’t have, are we operating out of a surplus right now? Where’s the money coming from to handle this? Because we’re now what? $120 million into this?

Governor John Bel Edwards: (28:51)
We are and as you know, we had a supplemental bill pending before the legislature based on the REC meeting where the [inaudible 00:29:03] adopted. But it showed a current year excess [inaudible 00:29:08].

Governor John Bel Edwards: (29:10)
…That excess and [inaudible 00:29:13] are an issue. [inaudible 00:29:15] I’m not going to stand here today and tell you we are [inaudible 00:29:20] because I don’t believe that that’s the case.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (29:23)
Secondly, one of the things that the bill has in it that will be available within 30 days of President Trump signing it, and it still has to be passed by the Senate and signed by the President, is direct [inaudible 00:00:29:37].

Governor John Bel Edwards: (29:38)
…But right now, my biggest concern is this health emergency and we are moving forward with everything that we know that we can and should do in order to deal with this emergency.

Governor John Bel Edwards: (29:51)
Yes ma’am.

Speaker 6: (29:54)
I wanted to know what’s next when it comes to fighting the curve, what’s those projections like? And if you can answer, how will the convention center be staffed if you were to go [inaudible 00:30:04]

Speaker 7: (30:03)
… sir, how will the convention center be staffed if you were to go that route?

Speaker 8: (30:07)
Well, yeah. I don’t really understand your question about the curve. What comes next depends on the data points we receive on the number of positive cases relative to the amount of testing that we do and then we plot that. As of right now we haven’t plotted the data points relative to cases. It takes us off the trajectory that we’ve been talking about for many days now that is alarming, which is why these mitigation measures have to be successful. With respect to staffing whatever search capacity that we create outside of the existing footprint of a hospital, we have contractual relationships with entities outside of Louisiana that we are working on. We are also working with the state medical board. The Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners I think is what it’s called and the nursing board to try to figure out if we can do some things to bring more healthcare professionals online quicker. We are doing things with medical schools. For example, we are trying to get the most recent set of medical school graduates credentialed, licensed sooner so that their residencies can start and [inaudible 01:18 – 00:36:19].