Starting next week, Louisiana will take a small step toward re-opening the medical sector.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he will issue an order that will allow some non-emergency procedures starting April 27.
Those procedures would have to be to avoid further harm from an underlying condition or disease; to treat a time-sensitive conditions; or to treat an emergency condition. The order will apply to dental procedures as well.
Medical professionals will make the decisions about what procedures just can't wait any longer, officials say. If a patient is getting worse, or something might be cancer, waiting could be more dangerous than exposing a patient to COVID, they say.
"This will have the effect of opening up more non-emergency procedures in hospital and clinical settings," Edwards said. "We want to do this in a way that is safe, and still controls spread of COVID-19."
Because of that, before re-opening, any clinic or facility must have a plan in place to include monitoring for infections, including testing; adequate social distancing for clinicians and patients; and minimum PPE requirements.
He said that's why he's making the order effective on Monday, because clinics need time to prepare and get their questions about implementation answered.
After the press conference, Paul Salles, president and CEO of the Louisiana Hospital Association, offered a reaction from his members to the governor's announcement:
“Louisiana hospitals welcome and support the state’s decision to restore patients’ access to time-sensitive, medically-necessary care. Elective care, also known as scheduled care, often involves providing lifesaving treatments and procedures that are necessary to keep people healthy. The state’s guidance includes appropriate safeguards ensuring that hospitals and health systems maintain the resources needed to quickly respond to a surge in their communities and limit the spread of COVID-19. We thank the Department of Health for collaborating with medical experts on this issue.”
Also during nthe press conference, Edwards discussed other steps toward re-opening. He said during a call with Vice President Michael Pence and other governors today, the focus was on testing - both diagnostic and antibody testing.
"Testing and contact tracing is the key to re-opening the economy. We have to do as much as we can in those areas to make sure we prevent cases from spiking as we move forward," Edwards explained. "I'm hopeful we will meet requirements for Phase I sooner than later. What you have to do is measure three different areas over a 14-day time period to make sure you're moving in right direction. We haven't met those thresholds yet."
One has to do with people reporting symptoms, one is the number of cases, and then there's the hospitalization capacity. Trend lines on those three data sets have to be trending in the right direction for a 14-day period before a state is ready for Phase I, he explained.
Phase I is not like flipping a light switch, he added. When asked about large gatherings happening this fall, he said it's too early for him to know what things will look like this fall.
"We're still going through those calculations," he said.
He encouraged people to make sure they're focused on today, versus a month from now. Mitigation measures have improved our outcomes so far, and we have to continue them in order to meet the criteria even for Phase I, he said.
"We know it works," Edwards said. "We have to continue to practice it, and then we're going to make it through as quickly as we can and in the best possible shape."
He predicted that several days prior to May 1 he will be talking about what Phase I will look like.
When asked if we could re-open by parish, Edwards said he doesn't think that's workable and it's not under consideration. Opening by region might work, he said. No decisions have been made as of yet, he said.
Edwards said he believes that there was a drop in compliance with the mitigation measures around Easter, and while he hopes it doesn't happen he believes there could be a spike in cases. That will have an impact on how Louisiana re-opens and when, he said, because it will affect the criteria for Phase I.
Even after we re-open all businesses, things won't look the way they did, he said. Until there is a vaccine - and there won't be one this year - things are not going to look the same, he said. We're still going to have to take precautions to limit the spread of the virus, to prevent a strain on health care, or to increase death counts, he said.
On the data side, Edwards said the state's COVID-19 dashboard will look a little different this week.
"We are moving to more parish-focused data on the state dashboard, so you will see a pause in some reporting so we can get the detail we're looking for, so the public will have a better idea of what's happening at the parish level," Edwards said.
While that transition is going on, other numbers won't be updated, Edwards said.
"By the end of the week, should get back to the reporting you've become accustomed to," he said.
When asked about the crashing of oil prices, Edwards said
"We're hopeful the situation will stabilize and will right itself sooner rather than later, but things are happening that have never happened before," Edwards said. "This is a problem for the world, it's not just a problem for Louisiana right now. But it adds to the challenges for our economy now."
Because the situation is so unprecedented, Edwards said he couldn't offer a lot to say about it.
"Some people may not mind paying less for gas, but for a state like Louisiana that's not a good trade-off," the governor said.
On April 20 the Louisiana Department of Health reported 24,523 confirmed cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the state.
A total of 1,328 people have died of the disease in Louisiana.
Reported COVID-19 patients in hospitals are 1,794; with 332 of those on ventilators.
As of April 20, 56.25% of COVID-19 deaths to date were among African American residents and 34.34% were among white residents.
The most common underlying conditions among COVID-19 deaths to date are hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
The Louisiana Department of Health updates the state's numbers at noon each day.
To see the latest from LDH, click here.
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