'What We Don’t Have Is Enough Nurses': Health Professionals Urge Caution As COVID-19 Cases Surge

Nov 23, 2020

Louisiana reported 2,229 new cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 19. Daily case numbers have begun to match those from July and August, when the state was experiencing its second outbreak, sparking concern from the medical and public health communities.

On Thursday, the CDC issued a statement about the Thanksgiving holiday, warning Americans that traveling could increase chances of getting and spreading the virus. It also provided a list of questions travelers should ask themselves about case numbers and hospital capacity in their departure and destination cities and about the contact that they have had with people outside of their households before finalizing plans.

“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate with the people you live with,” the statement read.

During a press briefing Thursday, Gov. John Bel Edwards urged Louisiana residents to rethink their travel plans this Thanksgiving, as cases are rising throughout the state.

“Make no mistake, Louisiana is in the third surge of this pandemic,” Edwards said.

The press briefing included messages from two doctors — Interim Assistant Secretary of the Office of Public Health Dr. Joseph Kanter and critical care physician Dr. Christopher Thomas with LSU Health at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

Kanter echoed the CDC’s statement.

“This is the most inopportune time unfortunately to have the holiday season come upon us,” Kanter said.

Thomas warned residents that if the trend continues, the state’s hospitals will be overwhelmed.

“At the current pace we will not have the capacity to do this again,” Thomas said. “I know we can do it if the number of people sick is small, and so your job is to keep it small.”

The concern from health care and public health professionals all over the state is that unlike the first two surges, which occurred regionally, COVID-19 cases are increasing in all regions of the state.

“Louisiana’s experience has been a series of somewhat localized epidemics within the state that kept us on this up and down kind of process,” Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Tulane University School of Public Health Susan Hassig said. “Now, unfortunately, we are heading up again, and this time it looks like we are all heading up pretty much simultaneously. That’s really concerning not only because of the implications it has for hospitalizations and our ability to care for both persons with coronavirus and people who have medical emergencies that don’t have coronavirus.”

At the press briefing Thomas explained that while Louisiana has enough hospital beds to care for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms, staffing will likely be a problem.

“What we don’t have is enough nurses for all the beds in all of the hospitals in the state of Louisiana,” Thomas said.

As cases rise all over the country, nurses from other states will be less available to travel to Louisiana to fill the gap Thomas said.

One of the reasons why the new cases have risen so high so quickly in Louisiana is that even though we flattened the last curve, the numbers never got as low as they were before July, Hassig explained.

“Our baseline was a bit higher than it was between the first two peaks and that had me concerned because that’s your base for the next rise and so we started higher,” Hassig said. “If we don’t behave and get our act together, we’re probably going to end up going higher than we did in July and August.”

Thomas echoed that concern: “If we do not bend the curve, am I concerned? Yes.”

Health professionals have acknowledged COVID-19 fatigue. On Friday former Secretary of Health and CEO of Health Care Services for LSU Health Dr. Rebekah Gee told WWNO Morning Edition host Diane Mack, “Certainly, nine months into COVID, we’re all sick of it. No one wants to hear about more mitigations or changes to our sense of normal, especially during our favorite holidays.”

Gee urged Louisiana residents to think about their vulnerable family members when making Thanksgiving plans.

“Thanksgiving is not just about being thankful, it’s about loving your family, and part of that is protecting your family,” Gee said. “While the public has not gone to medical school, you are now health care providers.”

Gee and Kanter acknowledged the good news that vaccine trials from Pfizer and Moderna have proven to be roughly 95 percent effective but that widespread immunization of the public is still months away.

Kanter asked residents to continue to wear masks, socially distance, wash hands, and hold on for just a little longer.

“This is like a team going into the fourth quarter after a decent effort in the first three,” Kanter said. “Coming into the fourth quarter, the first set of downs takes us right into Thanksgiving.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect job title for Dr. Rebekah Gee.