Even as the coronavirus pandemic claimed a newborn baby in Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday the latest COVID-19 hospital admission and death rates could suggest new infections are slowing as more residents stay home and away from others.
"We are starting to see real signs that these mitigation measures that we put into place weeks ago are starting to bear real results, and we're hopeful that we're seeing the beginning of the flattening of the curve," the Democratic governor said. The comments, made at his daily press briefing, offered a hint of optimism in a state with one of the nation's highest per capita virus infection rates.
With a new shipment of ventilators arriving from the national stockpile and the encouraging data on hospitalization rates, Louisiana's modeling no longer includes the dire projection that the New Orleans region could run out of ventilators and hospital beds this week.
Still, the virus was blamed for the death Monday of a baby born prematurely after her mother contracted the disease and was put on a ventilator. And Edwards cautioned that even if data continues to show Louisiana has truly turned a corner in the outbreak, no one should celebrate by having an Easter crawfish boil or more trips outside of the house.
"The fear is that I'm telling people that and they're going to say, 'Oh, the task at hand is accomplished. We can go back to doing whatever it is we normally do,'" Edwards said. "That is exactly the wrong answer."
Louisiana's coronavirus caseload grew Monday to nearly 15,000 people with confirmed infections, about 12% of whom are hospitalized. The death toll rose by 35 from a day earlier to at least 512 deaths.
For most people, the highly contagious coronavirus causes symptoms such as high fever and a dry cough that resolve in several weeks. But some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can suffer severe symptoms and require respirators to survive.
Hoping to lessen the virus's spread, Edwards has ordered schools closed, limited restaurants to takeout and delivery and shuttered businesses deemed nonessential such as gyms, hair salons and bars through the end of April.
In one of the many tragic stories to emerge from the epidemic, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark blamed a mother's COVID-19 disease for putting her into labor — and causing the newborn girl's death.
"The baby, because of the extreme prematurity did not survive," Clark said.
The girl survived only one day, and the coroner said both he and Louisiana's state epidemiologist agreed that she belongs in the state's grim coronavirus death toll. Whether the infant had COVID-19 remains under investigation, but Clark said her death is clearly linked to the virus.
If not for her mother's infection, Clark said, "Likely she would have not gone into preterm labor and there would have been a different outcome. This is an incredibly sad case."
Clark said the mother was admitted to a hospital on April 1, and remains alive. He provided no details about her condition, and no identifying information.
This premature baby wasn't the first U.S. newborn to die in similar circumstances, he added.
Louisiana began releasing more details about its virus deaths Monday, showing the COVID-19 disease has disproportionately hit black residents in the state. While African Americans account for one-third of Louisiana's population, they represent more than 70% of the state's deaths from COVID-19.
To keep New Orleans area hospitals from being overwhelmed, the state opened a makeshift "step-down" hospital at the city's convention center for people with less severe symptoms who don't need a ventilator or an intensive care unit bed. About two dozen COVID-19 patients were moved there Monday, Edwards said.
That temporary hospital facility accounted for $110 million in more than $573 million Louisiana's state government agencies have spent so far responding to the new coronavirus, according to Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne. The federal government is expected to reimburse at least 75% of those costs.
Meanwhile, as Texas state troopers started stopping and screening travelers entering the state from Louisiana, Edwards refused to take offense: "I"m asking people to stay home anyway."