NEW ORLEANS — Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that Louisiana is on pace to meet a "worst-case scenario" in which coronavirus cases outpace the state's healthcare capacity as early as next week.
"Our trajectory is basically the same as what they had in Italy," Edwards said at a Thursday news conference following a phone call with President Donald Trump and other governors.
During that call, Edwards told Trump that forecast models had predicted that cases of COVID-19 could outpace the healthcare capacity in the New Orleans - Jefferson Parish area in seven to ten days without additional support from the federal government.
Edwards said Louisiana's top priority is to rapidly increase the state's medical surge capacity because "it is the only part of the equation that we can control."
The other part of the equation: minimizing the spread of the virus across the state through social distancing. Edwards again implored residents to avoid large crowds, wash their hands and control their coughs.
"If we are not going to look like Italy in 10 days or two weeks, it will only be because of these mitigation measures," Edwards said.
Thursday, Italy became the country with the most coronavirus-related deaths, surpassing China by registering 3,405 dead. Italy's healthcare system has been overwhelmed by the virus and on Thursday a visiting Chinese Red Cross team criticized the failure of Italians to fully quarantine and take the national lockdown seriously. Overall, Italy has recorded 41,035 infections, more than half of the world's positive cases.
There have already been 392 positive cases of COVID-19 in Louisiana as of Thursday afternoon, including at least 249 cases in Orleans Parish and 69 cases in Jefferson Parish. 11 people have died from the disease.
"While we don't have the highest raw count of cases in the country, on a per capita basis we are right up there at the top," Edwards said.
According to the governor, Orleans Parish is ranked seventh in the country for number of positive cases, just above Cook County, Illinois which includes the City of Chicago.
"This is a very, very serious situation," Edwards said. "And I know that is a sobering analysis, but it is entirely consistent with what we have been telling you for days now. That's why we need people to take all of these precautions seriously."
Edwards re-iterated that more as more tests are conducted in the state, a spike of reported cases is expected in the next couple of days.
"It is distressing to see the cases rise, but it is actually helpful because it gives us a better idea of what we're dealing with, and we are not flying in the blind so much," Edwards said.
"This situation will get more severe, much worse before it plateaus and gets better," Edwards said.