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Louisiana governor: States are competing against each other for ventilators

Leaders in the states hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic so far are facing difficult choices amid limited resources. One of those states is Louisiana, which has experienced an explosion of cases and was declared a federal disaster by President Trump. Gov. John Bel Edwards joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the “alarming” growth rate of Louisiana cases and the desperate need for ventilators.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Leaders in the states that are hardest hit with COVID-19 are facing critical choices in the face of limited resources.

    As the national death toll now tops 800, Louisiana's Governor John Bel Edwards sounded the alarm today, warning residents about the rapid spread of the coronavirus across his state. It now has the third highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita, with about 1,800 in all.

    Louisiana was declared a federal disaster by President Trump yesterday. It now join the ranks of New York, Washington state and California.

    I spoke with Governor Edwards moments ago.

    Governor Edwards, thank you very much for joining us.

    I listened to your news conference this afternoon, where you talked about how rapid the rise of COVID-19 is in Louisiana. What are you dealing with, sir?

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    Well, we 1,795 cases here, which is, on a per capita base, the third most cases of any state in the country, but most alarming, the growth rate.

    We're still on a trajectory that has still not yet started to flatten. I know you have heard about flattening the curve. In fact, we picked up 407 cases in just last 24 hours.

    And so we're in a race against time, obviously, to increase our surge capacity, so that we can deliver more health care, and that involves PPE, ventilators, staffing, beds.

    But, in the meantime, we're trying very hard to get the people of Louisiana to take very seriously and do a better job. And, look, most people are being very compliant. But we have to do better at social distancing and making sure that we do slow the growth in our cases.

    We have to flatten that curve, so that we can get more time, because if we can extend the duration of the outbreak, then we have more capacity to deliver health care to the people who need it at any given time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. Right.

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    So, that's the biggest challenge they have.

    It's not unlike the challenges of other governors in other states. It just happens to be in my state, and I'm alarmed by both the case count and the growth rate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    And I want to ask you about the kind of things that you need.

    But, first, do you have an understanding of why it's increasing so rapidly in your state?

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    Well, we don't.

    Obviously, it's alarming. But we do know that mitigation works. But it only works to the degree that people practice the social distancing measures that we put in by executive order.

    You know, we have a stay-at-home order where only essential businesses are open and manned completely. We have closed bars and salons and beauty shops and a number of other businesses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    Restaurants have been open, but only for takeout and delivery and drive-through.

    But we have got to practice better social distancing, bend that curve. And, you know, my best guess, Judy, to answer your question — and this is a theory — and it has to do with the fact that we had Mardi Gras here in Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans, and we have hundreds of thousands of people who come in.

    We know that the first positive case surfaced with a test result 13 days after Fat Tuesday, after Mardi Gras Day. And so we believe that those visitors sort of seeded the virus in and around New Orleans. But that's a study to be done later by epidemiologists…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sure.

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    … when there's more data known.

    We're focused on going forward as best we can.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, what is the — I heard you speaking today about the severe need that you are facing for this personal protective equipment, for ventilators. Exactly what is the shortfall right now?

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    Well, the shortfall, the biggest thing that we're looking at is ventilators.

    We're on a trajectory that, given the number of new cases, how many of those will require hospitalization, as best we can model it, of that number, how many will require ventilators?

    In the New Orleans region, we're on a course that, by April the 2nd or 3rd, we're going to have great difficulty in getting everybody a respirator who will need one. And then, every day after that, it becomes increasingly more difficult, unless, of course, we start to bend that curve.

    So, that is the single largest, I should say, most pressing issue when it comes to surging our capacity. These ventilators are very hard to come by.

    But we did distribute 100 today to the region. But we actually need at least 1,000. So we have got a long way to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So where can you get some of this equipment? Are you turning to the federal government, to other sources? Where do you turn?

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    Well, it's really all of the above.

    As of now, we have been instructed to ask for, through FEMA, for these things, whether it's ventilators, PPE, to come from the national stockpile. But we're also working to source these items wherever we can, just using normal vendors.

    And our hospitals continue to do that as well. Unfortunately, we're all sort of competing against one another, both within the state and state against state, and state against state and federal government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Would it be better, finally, Governor, if there were some system where this kind of equipment was handed out in a systematic way, and you didn't have to compete worrying states?

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    Well, certainly, that would be better, in my estimation.

    And you would have then a rational way to allocate — even if they're limited, you're going to allocate those limited resources to where they're needed the most and that bear some relationship to the overall severity of the problem.

    That is lacking.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that would come from the federal government?

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    Well, I don't know where else it could come from.

    And, you know, this is something that many governors have voiced over the last several days. I was on a conference call today with about 40 governors, and this was — this was the topic du jour.

    We would really like some help, because, otherwise, you're left to just beg, borrow, and steal from wherever you can get these things. And, again, you're in competition with other states. You're in competition with your own health care providers to some degree.

    And the federal government will come in and make a purchase, and you find out that your purchase just got canceled. And so we are asking the federal government to have a bigger role in this, because I don't know that it gets sorted out in the short term any other way.

    But, look, we're not going to wait on other people to solve our problems before we continue to act. We're going to do everything we can, as aggressively as we can, to source these things for ourselves and get them into Louisiana, and get them distributed, so they're in place to meet the needs of our people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, this competition, a tough thing to hear about.

    Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, thank you so much. And we wish you the very best with all you're working on.

  • Governor John Bel Edwards:

    Thank you, Judy.

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