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Louisiana Governor Relays Latest On COVID-19 Response, As New Orleans Is Hit Hard

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Louisiana, more than 350 people have died from the coronavirus. That makes it the state with the fourth highest number of deaths in the country. That is, in part, because New Orleans is emerging as a coronavirus hotspot. Our next guest is the governor of Louisiana, Democrat John Bel Edwards.

On the question of ventilators, I know Louisiana has ordered 14,000. You have said New Orleans is going to run out in the next few days. How many have you gotten? When will you run out if you don't get more?

JOHN BEL EDWARDS: As of today, it's a grand total of 553, 550 of which have been allocated and distributed, mostly to Region 1 right down in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish. And 150 of those come from the Strategic National Stockpile. And I very much appreciate the president and the vice president and the folks at FEMA for cutting us in to that last allocation. And we continue to make our case for more based on the modeling that we have that indicates that as soon as April the 7, we could exceed our capacity for ventilators here. And if you need a ventilator and you don't have one, then obviously, your chance of dying from COVID-19 goes up considerably. And the other point we're making, Mary Louise, is this is based on modeling. And it depends on the infection rate, the case growth and so forth. So we need people in Louisiana to do an even better job of following the stay at home order, practicing social distancing and engaging in all the mitigation measures that can slow the spread because that's what this model is based on.

KELLY: OK. Since you raised the stay-at-home order, let me stay there. You extended Louisiana's stay-at-home order until the end of the month, April 30. School's...

EDWARDS: Yes.

KELLY: ...Closed, too. Without wanting to get ahead of ourselves, do you envision having to keep everything shut longer than that - into May, maybe even June?

EDWARDS: What I know is the timeline is going to be determined by the virus and not by me. And as we get closer to April the 30, we will look at the situation on the ground as we understand it to be based on case growth, hospitalization, deaths and so forth. We will consider any additional guidance we get from CDC and any additional measures taken by the White House.

As of right now, my stay-at-home order is through April 30, as you mentioned, which is the same timeline that the White House has announced that initially was 15 days. And then it became 45 days to slow the spread. But look. I'm very mindful that Dr. Fauci is right. The virus is in control of the timeline. We are not. And so we will look at the situation as we get closer to April the 30 and decide whether to continue the current mitigation measures or not.

KELLY: I know you all are working to finish a temporary hospital at the convention center. You're doing everything you can. But how worried are you about your ability to take care of people?

EDWARDS: I'm extremely worried. We have the slightest glimmer of hope that the case growth is going to slow down and push that date out just a little bit further, but it doesn't just push the date out further. It also lowers the number of people who are going to present needing a bed or needing a ventilator who won't be able to get one. And so literally, if we can get better compliance on our social distancing and our mitigation measures, that's how we're going to save lives. But, of course, we have to plan for what we currently know, not what we're hoping. And that's what we've been talking about with respect to April the 7 being the deadline.

KELLY: In the few seconds we have left, this, of course, is not the first time New Orleans has been hit by a public health crisis. If we'd look back at Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I wonder - is there a lesson from Katrina that you're holding in your mind that feels relevant as you face this crisis today?

EDWARDS: First of all, that was a horrendous natural disaster and one that we haven't fully recovered from. This public health emergency is very much different, but they both are running up against a very resilient, strong people of Louisiana and down in New Orleans. What makes this one so hard, Mary Louise, is that after Katrina, we had the full attention of the federal government, of all of the sister states. We received so many resources that was very generously directed to us.

In this emergency, every state is in the same condition, more or less. And we're all seeking the same things - PPE, ventilators and medical staff. And so there's only so much that the federal government can do to help in this situation. And that's what makes it so hard to manage and make sure that we have the best possible outcome. But we're working extremely hard, and we've got a great team on the ground here. The local leadership has been great, but this is a very, very challenging situation for the regions that I just mentioned.

KELLY: Gov. Edwards, thank you for your time.

EDWARDS: Thank you, Mary Louise. I appreciate it; anytime.

KELLY: That is John Bel Edwards. He is the governor of Louisiana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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