Baton Rouge hospitals fear Thanksgiving spike in COVID-19 cases

With some of Baton Rouge’s hospitals nearing capacity, local medical professionals today warned of an expected Thanksgiving spike in positive COVID-19 cases and urged residents to continue following the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a news conference this morning, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome was flanked by representatives from Our Lady of the Lake, Ochsner, Baton Rouge General and the Baton Rouge Clinic, all of whom reported seeing rises in positive cases over the past few days, which they worry will only increase after the Thanksgiving holiday next week.

While the recent spike could be attributed to crowds gathering at Halloween parties, it’s also likely due to so-called “COVID fatigue,” meaning people are less likely to wear masks, wash their hands or social distance today than they were eight months ago, said Dr. Tatiana Saavedra, infectious disease physician at the Baton Rouge Clinic.

“We’ve come this far, and we know what these things can do in terms of mitigating the spread,” Saavedra said. “I want us to get back to that point so that our hospitals don’t get overwhelmed.”

As of Monday morning, only two ICU beds were available in Baton Rouge General, and its COVID-19 unit is filled, according to chief of staff Dr. Louis Minsky.

“We’ve seen this happen twice this year, where we’ve gotten to capacity and had to expand,” Minsky said. “There’s no doubt we are all very tired, but we are not to the finish line yet.”

The first COVID-19 vaccine should become available by Jan 1, the medical professionals said, with a second vaccine also reportedly near completion.

As flu season approaches, Dr. Ralph Dauterive, Ochsner’s vice president of medical affairs, urged residents to get their flu vaccinations this year, calling 2020 the most important year to do so. 

Meanwhile, OLOL registered nurse Colette Barrett recommends Thanksgiving hosts connect with family members virtually. However, if relatives do meet in person she recommends an outdoor gathering, with everyone wearing masks and gloves, standing 6 feet apart, and family members bringing their own food. A buffet-style meal is “not an option,” she says.

“This is a clarion call: Let’s not let our guard down,” Broome said. “This is what I describe as short-term discomfort for long-term gain.”