‘Everyone is looking for them all at the same time…’
As Wuhan virus infections explode in the Bayou State, and state hospitals and emergency medical personnel fear overwhelm, Louisiana’s lack of lifesaving breathing ventilators could have been avoided.
Both former Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, and current Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, looked past years of federal warnings about ventilator shortages and how a lack of pandemic preparedness would lead to rationing care. Undoubtedly, other states have done the same and time will tell which ones will also suffer.
By the numbers, the Wuhan virus is literally spreading faster in Louisiana than anywhere else in the world. As of Monday, 3 p.m., the state had 4,025 positive cases and 186 deaths. Two weeks ago, it had few reported cases.
Louisiana trails only New York, Washington and New Jersey in total death count, despite having millions of fewer residents than the least of those states. Louisiana is also expected to run out of ventilators this week.
The deadly super-virus attacks the lungs and causes shortness of breath. With severe infections, and in cases involving older patients and people with preexisting health conditions, the virus can it impossible to breathe. Ventilators solve the issue by pumping oxygen and functioning as artificial lungs.
Now, hard-hit states are scrambling for ventilators and are even competing with each other.
“This is a very very difficult item to find because everyone is looking for them all at the same time,” Edwards said at a press conference last week.
But he’d been warned, as had his predecessor Gov. Jindal.
A 2017 CDC study titled “Stockpiling Ventilators for Influenza Pandemics,” found that “substantial concern exists that intensive care units might have insufficient resources to treat all persons requiring ventilator support.”
A 2017 CDC white paper, published by the American Association for Respiratory Care, acknowledged that the agency’s Strategic National Stockpile of about 10,000 ventilators “might not suffice to meet demand during a severe public health emergency.”
And a 2015 study by researchers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC calculated that an additional 7,000 to 11,000 ventilators would be needed to avoid 35,000 to 55,000 deaths during a nationwide pandemic. A “severe” pandemic would require an estimated 35,000 to 60,500 additional ventilators to avoid 178,000 to 308,000 deaths.
A 2009 report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration stated, “Healthcare facilities can be overwhelmed, creating a shortage of hospital staff, beds, ventilators and other supplies.”
Another 2009 report said a full-scale H1N1-type outbreak means “1 or 2 out of every 2,000 Americans might be hospitalized,” and that 50–100 percent more ventilators and ICU capacity might be needed.
The list goes on. But both Jindal, a two-term governor serving from 2008–2016, and Edwards, elected in 2016, failed to stockpile ventilators and other critical supplies while federal health agencies warned of pandemic response shortages almost annually. The reports repeatedly identified weaknesses in federal preparedness and effectively put states on notice to better prepare for a respiratory pandemic.
But in failing to act, Louisiana’s governors have put their state in the hands of the federal government to be rescued despite its repeated pandemic shortage warnings.
Liberty Headlines examined a 2011 Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals “standard of care” document that outlined the state’s emergency health guidelines. When there is a shortage of ventilators and critical supplies, state hospitals are advised to invoke the “Life Cycle Principle.”
“This means that younger individuals should have a right to the same number of years to live as an older person has already had. Using this principle, age would become the driving force. All other things being equal, with one ventilator to spare, it would go to someone 28 y/o over someone 82 y/o,” the guidelines say.
The document also explained the need for medical staff to have access to ventilators, not just patients: “If the medical personnel have some assurance that they may get a ventilator, they may be more likely to come in to work especially once the fatality rate of the ‘really bad virus’ becomes obvious.”
Louisiana’s alarming lack of ventilators didn’t happen overnight. At approximately $36,000 per device, they were not a priority over the past 12 years. Now, state hospitals desperately need them and it may be too late.
“We could potentially run out of vents in the New Orleans area in the first week in April,” Edwards said last week.
Chief among the suspected reasons for the crisis is the decision not to cancel Mardi Gras. The week-long raucous celebration in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans ended Feb. 25, after some portion of the hundreds of thousands of partygoers were likely exposed to the coronavirus.
Neither Edwards nor New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has taken responsibility for the colossal failure to protect city residents and tourists; Instead, they’re blaming President Trump.
Cantrell, a Democrat, said she didn’t cancel Mardi Gras because of the “response of our national leader.”
“Well, you know that the city of New Orleans as it relates to Mardi Gras, we plan Mardi Gras as a year-long effort. Around a part of our unified command is the federal government. Homeland Security, as well as the FBI,” said Cantrell in a CNN interview.
“No red flags were given. So absolutely, we moved forward,” she said.
In a Sunday interview with ABC News’ “This Week” host Martha Raddatz, Edwards said 1.5 million people participated in Mardi Gras just 13 days before the first confirmed coronavirus case was discovered on March 9.
CBS News’ “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan confronted Edwards on the same Sunday morning, “You didn’t cancel it. Do you regret not doing so?”
“There was not one person at the federal level, not at the CDC or otherwise, who recommended canceling anything,” he said.