New Orleans Is Turning a Convention Center Into a Huge Field Hospital as Coronavirus Cases Spike

Louisiana is getting hammered by coronavirus, with more than 500 new cases and 18 deaths reported on Thursday.
March 27, 2020, 2:02pm
new orleans louisiana coronavirus convention center
AP Photo/Scott Boehm

Louisiana reported more than 500 new coronavirus cases and 18 deaths on Thursday. Now, it’s racing to turn a New Orleans convention center into a massive field hospital.

Louisiana state health officials are planning to put more than 1,100 beds in Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Thursday. The move, which will see the first 120 beds moved in this weekend, is being made in order to take some burden off of hospitals in the area, which have been inundated with coronavirus patients.

The state has seen a spike in coronavirus cases over the past few weeks as testing has ramped up: 510 new cases were reported to the Louisiana Department of Health between Wednesday and Thursday, for a total of 2,305 positive cases confirmed in Louisiana. Eighteen people in Louisiana died yesterday, for a total of 83 deaths so far.

Louisiana, like the rest of the country, is also in desperate need of ventilators, according to the Department of Health. “If Louisiana’s growth continues this way and the state is unable to flatten the curve, the New Orleans area could run out” of ventilators by next week, the agency said.

Earlier this week, New York City began converting the Javits Center in Manhattan into a 1,000-bed field hospital as the number of potential coronavirus patients began to strain the city’s hospitals. With 5,000 booths, the Morial Convention Center would have the capacity for up to 10 times as many patients as New Orleans’ University Medical Center, according to the Times-Picayune.

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The convention center is ordinarily used for expos, graduation ceremonies, and other large events. Along with the New Orleans Superdome, it’s historically been a venue for the long-running Essence Festival. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the convention center was also used as a shelter of last resort for displaced residents.

In a press conference, however, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned that the state needs more healthcare workers, as well as beds and equipment. “We can move more of these wings, 120-bed wings, into the convention center. And we will if we have to,” Edwards said at a media briefing on Thursday. “But staffing those beds becomes very, very problematic.”

In addition to retrofitting the convention center into a makeshift hospital, the state will add 60 new healthcare workers and 400 new ICU beds in the weeks to come. It’s also secured two 250-bed field hospitals from the federal government, although Edwards originally requested 1,000 from the Trump administration, the Times-Picayune reported.

Edwards issued a stay-at-home order on March 22. Despite that order and other restrictions on large public gatherings, a one megachurch led by Baton Rouge pastor Tony Spell has continued to hold services. Spell said that services on Sunday brought in roughly 1,000 people, according to CNN, and another 300 attended services earlier this week.

"If they close every door in this city, then I will close my doors," Spell told CNN on Tuesday. "But you can't say the retailers are essential but the church is not. That is a persecution of the faith."

Cover: A general view of a football outside the NFL Media Center in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on January 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Scott Boehm)

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