NEW ORLEANS — President Donald Trump has approved Louisiana’s request for a major disaster declaration, opening access to more federal aid to combat coronavirus in the state.
The declaration frees up more direct federal aid for Louisiana’s state and city governments to combat the surging coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. government will reimburse the state for the costs of battling the coronavirus, which has so far spent $71 million responding to the pandemic.
Louisiana now joins New York, California, Washington and Iowa in coronavirus disaster status. The declaration reflects the Pelican State's dangerous rate of COVID-19 spread, a statistic that tops the nation yet has received little national attention in comparison to the coasts.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday that Louisiana could run out of hospital beds soon.
“It would be in the April 4 or 5 timeframe,” the governor said. “The number of cases in Louisiana continues to rise more drastically than we would like.”
Dr. Rebekah Gee, CEO of the LSU Health System and a former state health secretary, said that New Orleans is set to become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know we’re asking for additional personnel, additional equipment, and we’ll need to set up additional hospital capacity throughout the state and that declaration will allow for that,” Gee said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were nearly 1,400 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Louisiana and 46 patients dead from the virus.
The state is currently under a "Stay at Home" order, forcing many businesses to close and asking people to stay in their houses unless absolutely necessary to stop the spread of the virus.
"We have overwhelmed our stocks of key resources needed for our hospitals, first responders and emergency managers," Edwards said in his request Tuesday. "There will be a long-lasting impact on the state of Louisiana, and we have taken aggressive mitigation measures to fight the spread of COVID-19.
In general, federal disaster declaration are managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and enable federal funding and assistance to states and counties (in this case, parishes) responding to emergencies.
Louisiana will receive federal funding and assistance for services such as disaster unemployment assistance, disaster case management and crisis counseling for residents impacted by the pandemic.
The state will also receive funds for medical, dental, childcare and funeral expenses, as well as statewide hazard mitigation to respond to the spread of the new coronavirus.
Edwards also asked for full federal funding for emergency work and to "execute homeland security defense activities" in the fight against COVID-19.
It is the latest in a long list of emergency declarations declared for a state hit by several severe storms, floods and tornadoes in the last 10 years.