BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – LSU Health Shreveport’s Chancellor called the positivity rate in Northwest Louisiana “unacceptable” on Thursday, as the region sees a steep rise in cases.
Dr. Ghali Ghali was a guest at Gov. John Bel Edwards’ briefing. The governor has been bringing in health care leaders from different regions of the state to talk about what they are seeing locally.
LSUHS, which has teaching hospitals in conjunction with Oschner LSU Health System in north Louisiana, is also home to three labs that have been processing tests in the region. One of those labs has been focused on testing in the region’s nursing homes, where Ghali said they believe the spread of the virus has been contained. But they are also processing tests from the community, and those results indicate the virus is still spreading.
“What we’ve not been good at is containing the community spread of this disease,” Ghali said. “The positivity rate is somewhere between 12 and 15% is what we’re seeing in our community testing. That’s unacceptable. And in my mind, that’s related to too many people gathering, crowds being too large, people not abiding completely with the governor’s orders, and not wanting to wear a mask. It’s ridiculous to say that one should not wear a mask. As a surgeon, I’ve worn a mask for over thirty years to protect not just myself, but primarily to protect other people, to protect the patients. So I would encourage you guys to do that. I would encourage you to support the governor in those efforts.”
Ghali said that Region 7 has seen a steep increase in the number of cases over the past 30 days. Hospitalizations appear to have begun “a bit of plateau” in the last few days, but there is not enough data yet to determine whether there really is a plateau or a downward trend.
Still, Ghali said they have are nearly as many patients hospitalized now as they did at the height of the outbreak in April. The hospital system has been able to surge capacity, and that they currently have the highest number of available ICU beds in the state. The bigger issue is staffing. With the combination of a nursing shortage and the increased exposure frontline workers risk on the front lines of the pandemic, Ghali said, “we could use another 100 to 150 nurses easily.”
Ghali urged those who have recovered from the coronavirus to donate plasma, which so far has helped 25 critically ill patients recover. LSUHS helped pioneer the treatment.
Ghali also addressed the reasons he believes the death rate may be lower from the latest surge in cases than they were when the virus first spiked in Louisiana.
“People want to say the death rate is coming down. Again, it does lag, as the governor is saying. What we’re seeing is a couple of different things. One, I do believe the older populations, the more senior populations in our state are the ones that are listening the most about the masks. The younger populations are not. So what we’re seeing is an increased number of the younger populations, the 29-and-under group, if you look at data from the department of health, which I have no reason to disagree with, because we’re seeing that same thing. That’s the group that’s become most infected right now with COVID-19 and obviously, because they have less number of comorbidities, they’ve got the best opportunity to potentially recover and less of a chance of needing to be hospitalized.”
So that’s one big reason. The other big reason that we may be seeing a lower death rate and in some instances, a lower hospitalization rate, comparatively – we don’t want it to go up and it’s been going up – and comparatively, is that the critical care doctors have improved the modalities of treating these patients. Certainly, I believe Remdisivir is helping. Proning the patient, the inhaled nitric oxide that we’ve talked about before and that has been published in the media, early use of steroids, and trying to not get the patient on mechanical ventilation if at all possible. So those factors, I think, are leading to the potential lower death rate. But again, as the governor has mentioned, every death is really unacceptable.”
As for a vaccine, Ghali says he would love to be optimistic that there will be one by the end of the year, but that wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing is still the way to go.