Hospitals pushed to the limit in SW La.

Published 8:00 am Friday, August 6, 2021

By John Guidroz

American Press

COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Southwest Louisiana, with hospitals once again being pushed to their limits and entire floors being converted to COVID-19 wings.

Several local medical professionals at a press briefing Thursday urged residents to listen to their doctors and get vaccinated in order to get the virus under control.

Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, Region 5 Office of Public Health medical director, said 127 people in the region are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, with 15 percent on ventilators. Just over two weeks earlier, only 23 people in the region were hospitalized with the virus, and five were on ventilators, she said. Region 5 includes Calcasieu, Cameron, Beauregard, Allen and Jeff Davis parishes.

Cavanaugh said 235 new COVID-19 cases were reported throughout Region 5 on Thursday, including 144 in Calcasieu Parish, 46 in Beauregard, 20 in Jeff Davis, 23 in Allen and two in Cameron. The region is averaging more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per week, up 600 percent from last month, she said.

More than 90 percent of all current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Louisiana are unvaccinated, Cavanaugh said. Meanwhile, only 27 percent of residents in Region 5 are fully vaccinated.

Southwest Louisiana has the lowest percentage of people in the state that have received the COVID-19 vaccine, Cavanaugh said. At the same time, Louisiana ranks 47th in the nation in the percentage of people who are vaccinated. Louisiana also has the most new COVID-19 cases per capita nationwide.

“Second place is not even close,” she said.

Cavanaugh said hospitals are taxed, with nurses working overtime and double shifts. Medical employees not on the clinical side are being pulled in to take care of patients. Only two intensive care unit beds are available in Region 5, none in Calcasieu Parish.

“We can either choose at this point to stick our head in the sand and pretend this crisis doesn’t exist … or we can go ahead and tackle it with tools that we know work to control the spread of COVID-19,” she said. “We are in crisis right now, whether we acknowledge it or not,” she said.

As of Thursday, Region 5 has fewer available hospital beds in the intensive care unit and on the floor than it did on Aug. 28, 2020, the day after Hurricane Laura’s landfall, Cavanaugh said.

“You think about trauma, in particular, heart attacks or strokes that require ICU-level care,” she said. “It’s not a good place for our community to be in when we don’t have that resource.”

Dr. Clifford Courville, a pulmonary care physician at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, said the hospital’s ICU is full. Unlike the situation last year, he said the majority of patients in the ICU and on ventilators are under the age of 60.

“These are people just like you,” he said. “There’s a way to completely prevent all of it.”

Dr. John Noble, a local orthopedic surgeon, said residents must consider getting the vaccine to stop the spread of COVID-19. He said elective procedures will be postponed as long as hospitals are full.

“We can stop this pandemic through vaccination,” Noble said. “It really should be a public health issue, not a political issue.”

Dr. Kamran Shahid, a local cancer specialist, said immunocompromised people have a lower chance of surviving COVID-19. He urged residents to get vaccinated and wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19. Gov. John Bel Edwards reinstated a statewide mask mandate for indoor spaces that took effect Wednesday and lasts through at least Sept. 1.

“The sooner we do this, the better it will be in fighting this pandemic,” he said. “Otherwise, unfortunately, we are going to see a lot more deaths.”

Dr. Amber Dawson, a local pediatric specialist, said she is seeing younger patients come into her clinic with COVID-19 symptoms. She recommended children 12 and older get the Pfizer vaccine, which is available for that age range and is 100 percent effective for those ages 12-15.

Cavanaugh said the number of residents getting the COVID-19 vaccine is up from last month. She said the effort moving forward will center around communicating the risks of not getting a vaccine, versus the benefits of getting it.

“I think this battle is going to be won in doctor’s offices, in pharmacies, in consultation with all of our medical community, in a relationship where people trust their doctor to give them good advice,” Cavanaugh said.

Another public briefing is not scheduled at the moment.