A number of health experts have described the dangerous and deadly effect the Delta strain of COVID-19 is having in the state of Louisiana, including how doctors are being forced to cancel major surgeries to free up space for those afflicted with the virus.
Michele Sutton, CEO of North Oaks Health System in Hammond, Louisiana, spoke about how hospitals are struggling to cope with the fourth wave of COVID infections as there is not enough room for patients and dozens of staff members test positive for the virus.
Speaking to several public health experts and doctors at a news conference Monday, Sutton explained why they support Governor John Bel Edwards’ plans to restore a statewide mask mandate.
Sutton said the hospital has also had to halt elective surgeries so they can turn their recovery room into a third intensive care unit to meet demand for COVID cases.
Sutton said that because of this, doctors are currently having to decide which people can or cannot have their surgeries as planned. Sutton gave an example where a man was told “we can’t fix your brain aneurysm tomorrow like we hoped” because they didn’t have an intensive care bed to put him in after he got out of surgery.
All Louisiana residents over the age of five, even if they have been vaccinated, will now be obliged to cover their faces while indoors in public places until at least September 1, unless they are exempt.
The move comes as the state faces the worst wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of growth rate, percent positivity and hospitalizations, as the Delta variant continues to spread through Louisiana and the rest of the country.
“When I got up this morning, the first thing I did was look at how many COVID-positive patients I have in our small community hospital. We had 89,” Sutton said.
“I had 13 patients in the [Emergency Department] waiting for a bed, 10 of which are COVID positive.”
In addition to the patients, Sutton said they should seek help from other hospitals because they currently have 62 staff members who are unable to work because they have COVID.
“We have beds, but we don’t have people to operate them. Right now, 50 percent of our patients are COVID positive in our facility,” Sutton added.
Sutton said staff are also “demoralised” as they believed the current COVID wave could have been prevented if everyone wore masks and got the vaccination.
“This morning a 24-year-old had died from COVID, not vaccinated. This was preventable. In the past two weeks, we’ve had 14 deaths, most of them between the ages of 24 and 55.”
Sutton added that although North Oaks is currently under diversion, they are asking for ambulances not to come to them and instead transfer patients to another hospital.
“So when I’m making rounds, it’s not uncommon to see five, six stretchers lined up in the emergency room aisle […]’ said Sutton.
In a statement, Paul Salles, president and CEO of the Louisiana Hospital Association, reiterated that the mask mandate is once again needed in the state as he urged people to get the vaccination to protect them and others.
“As Louisiana faces yet another wave of COVID-19 fueled by the Delta variant, demand for hospitals across the state is simply unsustainable,” Salles said.
“The Louisiana Hospital Association, along with many of our hospitals and health systems, continues to promote the use of mitigating measures such as using face coverings indoors, social distancing, limiting the size of indoor gatherings, and most importantly, getting vaccinated.”
According to the Louisiana Department of Health, there were 11,109 new cases this weekend, with 27 deaths and 1,984 people hospitalized with COVID.
Officials said unvaccinated people are currently responsible for 90 percent of new COVID cases and 85 percent of deaths between July 15 and 21.