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Oxygen Shortages in Louisiana since Hurricane Ida

Hurricane Ida, the fifth largest hurricane in U.S. history, has isolated Louisiana from available medical assistance, leaving them with around  2,000 COVID-19 cases and an oxygen shortage.

According to CNN, “Some 2,450 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday, which is a drop of 20% in the past 10 days. But it’s still the most the state has had since before the current surge in cases.”

CNN also said more than 475 of the COVID-19 patients are on ventilators.

With so many people in need of ventilators, there is a high demand for oxygen in Florida. 

There is an “unprecedented level of patients in our hospitals that require significant levels of oxygen,” Savannah Kelly said on behalf of the Florida Hospital Association.

Dr. Ahmed Elhaddad, an intensive care unit doctor in Florida, said oxygen for hospitalized COVID-19 patients is crucial for patients’ survival.  

“This round, we’re seeing the younger patients –— 30-, 40-, 50-year-olds — and they’re suffering,” Elhaddad said. “They’re hungry for oxygen, and they’re dying. Unfortunately, this round they’re dying faster.”

David Sanford, the director of the White House’s supply chain task force, said  providing oxygen to patients is not usually difficult. 

“There is plenty of oxygen, just not in the right area,” Sanford said.

One reason oxygen cannot get to patients in Louisiana is due to a shortage of transportation drivers.

“In California, they were having issues of having enough commercial truck drivers who are certified to drive the trucks,” Dr. Eric Toner said, who works with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

This problem is worsened by Hurricane Ida, which has isolated Louisiana from much outside help, according to AP News.

Donna Cross, senior director of facilities and construction at the healthcare performance improvement company Premier, said because oxygen cannot be transported, hospitals are forced to make do without ideal levels of oxygen.

“Normally, an oxygen tank would be about 90% full, and the suppliers would let them get down to a refill level of 30-40% left in their tank, giving them a three- to five-day cushion of supply,” Cross said.. “What’s happening now is that hospitals are running down to about 10-20%, which is a one- to two-day supply on hand, before they’re getting backfilled.”

Marc Napp, the chief medical officer for the Florida-based Memorial Healthcare System, said the supply is low but has not yet run out.

“We are able at this point to meet our needs,” Napp said. “Our vendors are shipping our oxygen as we need it, but it’s something we are keeping a close eye on.”

Some hospitals have been forced to use mechanical ventilation for their excess of COVID-19 patients. Mechanical ventilation is less effective than high flow oxygen, but uses fewer oxygen resources.

According to the Center for Health Security, “Medical providers have seen the survival benefits of providing high flow nasal oxygen, rather than mechanical ventilation, to many COVID-19 patients. The challenge is that high flow oxygen therapy uses roughly 5 to 10 times the amount of oxygen as a mechanical ventilator.”

As early as January 2021, sources predicted such an oxygen shortage might occur in late 2021. The CHS warned the healthcare system, the state and the national leaders that this situation might occur.

Now, the CHS’s warnings have come to fruition.

“We had a survey last week where a number of hospitals had less than 48 hours worth of oxygen on site,” Mary Mayhew said, head of the Florida Hospital Association.

Until the effects of Hurricane Ida have been resolved and oxygen can be safely transported, Louisiana can do little more than watch, wait and make do with what resources are available.

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