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Louisiana races to increase hospital beds, ventilators for COVID-19

As of Wednesday, Louisiana has a total bed capacity of 22,142, but less than 10,000 of those beds were available to new patients.

NEW ORLEANS — Less than half of Louisiana's hospital beds were available for new patients Wednesday as the state braces for a possible flood of patients with COVID-19.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health, the number of patients hospitalized in the state due to the new coronavirus disease rose to 491. Of those patients, 163 are using ventilators.

As of Wednesday, Louisiana has a total bed capacity of 22,142, but less than 10,000 of those beds were available. Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes, which account for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the state, had only 1,375 beds still available Wednesday.

One strategy for opening up more space is by creating "medical monitoring stations" outside of hospitals where patients who don't need to be in an intensive care unit can still get care. Edwards said health officials were considering the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans as one possible location for these "step-down units."

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said the number of ventilators is the biggest short-term issue related to the state's hospital capacity.

"This is a very, very difficult item to find because everyone is looking for them all at the same time," Edwards said.

In total, Louisiana has 2,749 ventilators, including 650 in the New Orleans region. Edwards said the state distributed 100 ventilators to that region Wednesday and more could be arriving in the coming days and week.

"If our growth continues, we could potentially run out of vents in the New Orleans area in the first week of April," Edwards warned.

The governor said the state was exploring strategies for retrofitting other breathing devices to serve as makeshift ventilators.

Louisiana reported 407 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases of the new coronavirus disease in the state to 1,795.In total, 65 people from Louisiana have died from the disease, including 19 new deaths since Tuesday.

"The trajectory of our case growth continues to be very alarming. We have not begun to flatten the curve yet, and that is the number one message I am trying to deliver to the state of Louisiana. We have a long way to go," Edwards said.

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