New Orleans convention center prepares to start accepting thousands of coronavirus patients

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A field hospital in New Orleans are to start accepting patients with coronavirus from today at the same site where thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees gathered in 2005.

Authorities set up a temporary field hospital at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in the city.  

The facility has room for up to two thousand people. So far 1,000 beds have been set up but another thousand can be added should the need arise.

The center is expected to handle an overflow of patients from the city’s other hospitals. 

It came after it was revealed that the death rate in New Orleans is almost twice that of New York City, with doctors and public health officials blaming the Big Easy’s high levels of obesity and related ailments. 

Orleans Parish, which encompasses New Orleans, has a rate of 37.93 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people. The rate is double than that for New York City which is 18.86 deaths per 100,000.

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana is to start taking patients from today with room for 2,000

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana is to start taking patients from today with room for 2,000

The convention center has been fitted out to allow COVID-19 patients to be treated to alleviate stress on local hospitals

The convention center has been fitted out to allow COVID-19 patients to be treated to alleviate stress on local hospitals

A view of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as it prepares to open for patients with coronavirus

A view of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as it prepares to open for patients with coronavirus 

The field hospital will be ready for admissions Monday,  but officials don’t expect many to be arriving until a few days later

The field hospital will be ready for admissions Monday,  but officials don’t expect many to be arriving until a few days later

To access one of the newly built rooms, a hospital referral is required and walk-ups will not be allowed

To access one of the newly built rooms, a hospital referral is required and walk-ups will not be allowed

Officials in Louisiana are awaiting the arrival of hundreds of ventilators according to the state’s governor. 

The pop up facility which cost more than $90 million to fit, equip and staff, is meant to treat COVID-19 patients who no longer need acute treatment at a hospital but still require care they can’t get at home.

‘This is going to allow our hospitals to do what they do best — that’s take care of our critically ill patients, and stretch their capacity to have a chance of getting through this,’ said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the New Orleans Health Department director to WDSU. 

Health officials say many local hospitals are reaching capacity.

Emergency trailers have been set up in the area around the convention center to coordinate the relief effort

Emergency trailers have been set up in the area around the convention center to coordinate the relief effort

The U.S. flag hangs proudly alongside the Louisiana state flag from the the roof on the convention center

The U.S. flag hangs proudly alongside the Louisiana state flag from the the roof on the convention center

The isolation tents are air-conditioned but sparsely furnished. Besides a bed, pillow and blanket, there’s a folding chair, a TV tray and an office-style telephone

The isolation tents are air-conditioned but sparsely furnished. Besides a bed, pillow and blanket, there’s a folding chair, a TV tray and an office-style telephone

The patients will be treated and observed in tent rooms that are about the size of backyard sheds

The patients will be treated and observed in tent rooms that are about the size of backyard sheds

The rooms are well fitted with two countertops, an electrical outlet, an office chair, a mattress, a thermostat, telephone and a window with the blinds drawn

The rooms are well fitted with two countertops, an electrical outlet, an office chair, a mattress, a thermostat, telephone and a window with the blinds drawn

‘We’re looking at the cases climbing, and we’re mapping out when we think we are going to reach max capacity of the hospitals in this region. That’s why this is timed to open on Monday morning, because this coming week is when we predict we will hit capacity. So we need an outlet to care for patients, ‘ Dr. Joseph Kanter said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Saturday the federal government would be sending 200 additional ventilators for a total of 350.

‘We are grateful to both President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence for keeping Louisiana at the forefront of this fight against COVID-19 and appreciate them understanding the necessity of these ventilators for the survival of our people, especially in light of today’s sobering numbers,’ Edwards said in a statement.

Louisiana is also set to receive another shipment of surgical gowns for the New Orleans area with personal protective equipment among medical staff running low, just as in other parts of the country. 

The pop up facility cost more than $90 million to build, equip and staff with an overall capacity of 2,000 patients

The pop up facility cost more than $90 million to build, equip and staff with an overall capacity of 2,000 patients

Staff stand at a nurse monitoring station inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as they prepare for patients

Staff stand at a nurse monitoring station inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as they prepare for patients

Health officials were given a tour over the weekend of the new pop-up medical facility

Health officials were given a tour over the weekend of the new pop-up medical facility 

Staff work inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as they prepare for patients

Staff work inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as they prepare for patients 

People clean floors inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center which will open up for patients later on Monday

People clean floors inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center which will open up for patients later on Monday

The field hospital was built in a matter of days which demonstrated the sheer magnitude of the crisis posed by the virus

The field hospital was built in a matter of days which demonstrated the sheer magnitude of the crisis posed by the virus

Doctors said the facility will treat patients who are recovering but still need care

Doctors said the facility will treat patients who are recovering but still need care

The convention center was a familiar sight in 2005 for those displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

The convention center was a familiar sight in 2005 for those displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Flood victims sit outside the Convention Center in New Orleans, after being forced out of their homes by floods in 2005

Flood victims sit outside the Convention Center in New Orleans, after being forced out of their homes by floods in 2005

The coronavirus has been a far deadlier threat in New Orleans than the rest of the United States, with a per-capita death rate twice that of New York City, research suggests.

Along with New York and Seattle, New Orleans has emerged as one of the early U.S. hot spots for the coronavirus with 4,066 infections and 166 deaths for New Orleans, a city of 300,000 people.

Across the state there have been 13,010 infections with 477 deaths as of Sunday. 

Orleans Parish, which encompasses the city, reported 153 confirmed coronavirus deaths as of Friday, the equivalent of 37.93 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people. That rate for New York City was at 18.86 per 100,00 people on Friday, the Wall Street Journal reports.

‘We’re just sicker,’ said Rebekah Gee, who until January was the health secretary for Louisiana and now heads Louisiana State University’s healthcare services division. 

New Orleans (above during the lockdown) remains a national virus hotspot. The death toll in the city is now at 409. The city's Mardi Gras celebrations had been blamed for the causing the virus to spread so rapidly across the state but underlying health conditions are also to blame

New Orleans (above during the lockdown) remains a national virus hotspot. The death toll in the city is now at 409. The city’s Mardi Gras celebrations had been blamed for the causing the virus to spread so rapidly across the state but underlying health conditions are also to blame

Carondelet Street lies deserted in the early afternoon during shelter in place orders to slow the spread of coronavirus disease in an aerial photograph in New Orleans, Louisiana

Carondelet Street lies deserted in the early afternoon during shelter in place orders to slow the spread of coronavirus disease in an aerial photograph in New Orleans, Louisiana

A convention center in New Orleans has been converted into a makeshift hospital specifically to treat COVID-19 patients

A convention center in New Orleans has been converted into a makeshift hospital specifically to treat COVID-19 patients 

‘We already had tremendous healthcare disparities before this pandemic – one can only imagine they are being amplified now.’ 

Statewide, Louisiana is second only to New York state in per-capita deaths, the Journal reports.

‘We have more than our fair share of people who have the comorbidities that make them especially vulnerable,’ said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards to the Wall Street Journal. 

Members of the media tour the field hospital setup for coronavirus patients at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans

Members of the media tour the field hospital setup for coronavirus patients at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans

The convention center will start taking patients on Sunday with room for 1,000 COVID-19 positive patients to alleviate stress on local hospitals

The convention center will start taking patients on Sunday with room for 1,000 COVID-19 positive patients to alleviate stress on local hospitals

Doctors say obesity and related ailments, such as diabetes and hypertension, may be part of the problem. Pictured: State Rep R Dewith Carrier (R- District 32) has his temperature taken as he arrives at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge last week

Doctors say obesity and related ailments, such as diabetes and hypertension, may be part of the problem. Pictured: State Rep R Dewith Carrier (R- District 32) has his temperature taken as he arrives at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge last week

New Orleans COVID-19 deaths, per 100,000 

St. John the Baptist Parish – 39.69

Orleans Parish – 37.93

St. Charles Parish – 20.72

Jefferson Parish – 19.65

St. James Parish – 18.96

New York City – 18.86

Plaquemines Parish – 17.25

             Source: John Hopkins University 

New Orleans officials have warned the city could run out of ventilators and hospital beds by the end of next week. 

Chief among the concerns raised by doctors working in the Louisiana city is the death rate, which is twice that of New York and over four times that of Seattle, based on Thursday’s publicly reported data.

New Orleans residents suffer from obesity, diabetes and hypertension at rates higher than the national average, conditions that doctors and public health officials say can make patients more vulnerable to COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Some 97% of those killed by COVID-19 in Louisiana had a pre-existing condition, according to the state health department. 

Diabetes was seen in 40% of the deaths, obesity in 25%, chronic kidney disease in 23% and cardiac problems in 21%.

Orleans Parish, which encompasses New Orleans, has a rate of 37.93 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people. Pictured: Elena Likaj, prevention department manager at Odyssey House Louisiana began testing bikers for coronavirus at a drive-thru testing station in the city

Orleans Parish, which encompasses New Orleans, has a rate of 37.93 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people. Pictured: Elena Likaj, prevention department manager at Odyssey House Louisiana began testing bikers for coronavirus at a drive-thru testing station in the city

Medical workers screen people seeking testing at a drive-thru testing center for the new coronavirus in New Orleans. Even as many follow Gov. John Bel Edwards' stay-home order, health care workers worry if they'll have enough medics and equipment to meet the demand

Medical workers screen people seeking testing at a drive-thru testing center for the new coronavirus in New Orleans. Even as many follow Gov. John Bel Edwards’ stay-home order, health care workers worry if they’ll have enough medics and equipment to meet the demand

‘It’s an easy scapegoat to say, oh, Louisiana is doing poorly on deaths per hospitalization because this is an obese population, they are Southerners, they are ill,’ Tulane University health economist Engy Ziedan said to the Journal. 

‘Are we testing too late? Are we waiting until someone develops a really bad cough and has no option but to show up to the hospital and needs a ventilator?’ she wondered.  

New Orleans could be a harbinger for the potential toll the pandemic could take in other parts of the South and Midwest that also have high rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

A host of other factors could contribute to New Orleans’ high death rate from COVID-19, ranging from access to healthcare and hospital quality, to the prevalence of other conditions, including lung disease, health officials say.

A painting by the graffiti artist Bandit titled Our Nurses, Our Saints is seen on a wall in the lower ninth ward on in New Orleans, Louisiana

A painting by the graffiti artist Bandit titled Our Nurses, Our Saints is seen on a wall in the lower ninth ward on in New Orleans, Louisiana

Hundreds of churchgoers continued to ignored their Governor's pleas by attending services last Sunday despite the state-wide social distancing guidelines and bans on large gatherings

Hundreds of churchgoers continued to ignored their Governor’s pleas by attending services last Sunday despite the state-wide social distancing guidelines and bans on large gatherings

But they also note that it is clear that obesity-related conditions are playing a role in the deaths. That could be a warning sign for the United States at large, where chronic obesity is more common than in other developed countries, they said.

‘We all look at the video of what’s going on in settings like Italy. We really, really, really hope that we are doing what we need to do to not be on that trajectory,’ Alex Billioux, Louisiana’s public health chief said to the Wall Street Journal

‘By the end of this epidemic, every family is going to be touched.’ 

In New Orleans, hospitals are reporting cases across the generations -mothers and daughters, fathers and sons – being intubated and cared for in the same intensive care units, said Tracey Moffatt, the chief nursing officer at Ochsner Health, the largest healthcare provider in Louisiana. 

The prevalence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease in New Orleans and Louisiana plays into that, she said.

Those family members often suffered from the same medical conditions before becoming sick, leaving them similarly vulnerable to the coronavirus despite their age gaps.

‘We had a case where a mom was already in the ICU and the daughter, who was obese, came in,’ she said. ‘The daughter asked staff to wheel her by her mom’s room so she could say goodbye before she herself was intubated. We knew the mother was going to pass away.’

Both patients suffered from obesity. 

Cindy Morris, left, and Swarnamala Ratnayaka don personal protective equipment before preparing RNA for testing for the new coronavirus at the molecular pathology lab at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans

Cindy Morris, left, and Swarnamala Ratnayaka don personal protective equipment before preparing RNA for testing for the new coronavirus at the molecular pathology lab at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans

Οn April 1, Louisiana recorded its biggest one day jump in cases and deaths. Republican Governor John Bel Edwards described the statistic as 'sobering'. Pictured: Edwards at a press conference

Οn April 1, Louisiana recorded its biggest one day jump in cases and deaths. Republican Governor John Bel Edwards described the statistic as ‘sobering’. Pictured: Edwards at a press conference

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week released for the first time a report showing that 78% of COVID-19 patients in ICUs in the United States had an underlying health condition, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic lung disease.

The CDC report was based on a sample of under 6% of reported coronavirus infections, but doctors in Louisiana said it was consistent with what they are seeing, and it is in line with what other countries like Italy and China have faced.

Those percentages, said Dr. Joseph Kanter, an emergency department doctor and the top public health official in New Orleans, are likely similar in cities across the United States.

A man walks past the closed Cafe Du Monde restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It's normally bustling with tourists, but now deserted due to the pandemic

A man walks past the closed Cafe Du Monde restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It’s normally bustling with tourists, but now deserted due to the pandemic

‘What we worry about here is that we have more people in our communities with those conditions,’ he said. ‘We’re more vulnerable than other communities, and the number of deaths we’ve seen illustrates that.’

The New Orleans metropolitan statistical area ranks among the worst in the United States for the percentage of residents with diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, a Reuters analysis of CDC data shows. 

An estimated 39% have high blood pressure, 36% are obese and about 15% have diabetes.

Nationally, the median is 32% with high blood pressure, 31% obese and 11% with diabetes.

‘The burden of disease in Louisiana and the Deep South is higher than in the rest of the country,’ said Gee. ‘Invariably that means that the South is going to be hard hit by this.’

New Orleans Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno wears her face mask with the New Orleans Saints NFL team logo as the media tours the field hospital setup for coronavirus patients

New Orleans Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno wears her face mask with the New Orleans Saints NFL team logo as the media tours the field hospital setup for coronavirus patients



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