Washington — With Louisiana seeing explosive growth in its number of coronavirus cases and New Orleans poised to become the next epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., Governor John Bel Edwards said the federal government has not yet approved the state's request for more ventilators from the nation's stockpile.
"We haven't yet been approved for ventilators out of the National Stockpile," Edwards, a Democrat, said on "Face the Nation" Sunday. "I continue to press that case, and I hope that we will be cut in for a slice of what they have left there and that we get them in the next few days."
Edwards said the state has also reached out for vendors, placing orders for 12,000 more machines from manufacturers who are already stretched to capacity. So far, Louisiana has received just 192, he said.
"That is inadequate to the past because if we stay on this present growth curve that we're on with respect to coronavirus cases, we believe that by about April the 4th or so in the New Orleans area, we will exceed our capacity for ventilators, and obviously that's not where we want to be," Edwards said.
To boost its supply, Edwards said the state is exploring converting breathing machines, sourcing ventilators used for EMT operations and examining whether some can be used on more than one patient at a time.
"The biggest issue in the near term, however, is ventilatory capacity, and it's the one thing that really keeps me up at night right now," he said.
Louisiana currently has more than 3,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 137 dead, according to the state's health department.
On Saturday night, Edwards' office announced that one of the governor's staff members, April Dunn, died from complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Dunn was just 33 years old.
"She was a very sweet lady and an important part of our team," Edwards said.
Across the United States, the number of coronavirus cases tops 124,000, with more than 2,100 dead, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Numerous states have sounded the alarm on the need for more ventilators, and Edwards said that "all states are having this issue to one degree to another."
To alleviate the growing demand, President Trump on Friday used his authority under the Defense Production Act to order General Motors to prioritize manufacturing the machines.
But states have also warned of the need for personal protective equipment for doctors, nurses and other health care workers on the front lines.
Edwards said Louisiana received roughly 110,000 masks Saturday, and said the situation with protective equipment "does appear to be getting a little bit better."
"We hope that that obviously continues to improve over time, but it's a challenge," he said. "Everybody is paying more for these items than we would've paid several weeks ago. It's a function of supply and demand."
Edwards said he believes there is price-gouging taking place and said he is turning over suspected offenders to federal prosecutors in Louisiana.
Edwards also defended the decision to allow Mardi Gras to move forward. The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Louisiana came 13 days after the massive celebration.
Not long after Mardi Gras, which took place on February 25, public health officials called for large gatherings to be canceled. Edwards noted that at the time of the celebration, which brings thousands of partiers to New Orleans, there were just 15 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., all of which were linked to foreign travel.
"We'll know what role Mardi Gras played in seeding this virus later," Edwards said. "Right now, that's not our focus. We can't do anything about what happened or didn't happen yesterday. We're focused on building our capacity to deliver health care in the short term and slowing the spread of this virus."