Thursday, 05 August 2021 00:46

Morning Joe: Ochsner's Warner Thomas talks Delta Variant surge Featured

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How challenging for the State of Louisiana is Covid-19's omnipresent Delta variant? What impact is it having upon the state's premier health system? 

Today, the President and CEO of Ochsner Health, Warner Thomas, was a guest on Morning Joe to discuss the raging Covid-19 Delta virus. Thomas said it is the fourth surge in Louisiana.  During the interview, CEO Thomas talked about the impact the virus was having upon medical services, even to the point that over the past ten days, Ochsner had to turn away 300 transfer patients from other facilities due to the level of COVID patients Ochsner is treating and due to the level and pressure on staffing.

Ochsner is Louisiana’s largest nonprofit academic health center and is the state’s largest private employer. The health system has facilities in New Orleans, Jefferson Parish, Kenner, the River Parishes, Baton Rouge, the Northshore, the West Bank, Raceland, Houma, St. Bernard, Shreveport, and in Mississippi.

Willie Geist 

Let's bring in the president and CEO of Ochsner health. Warner Thomas. Ochsner is Louisiana's largest nonprofit academic health system. And its largest private employer. Mr. Thomas, thanks for being with us this morning. So first of all, what is the state of affairs right now in Louisiana yesterday, a new state record for hospitalization single day hospitalizations.  I know in Louisiana breaking a record that had been set all the way back in January. So what does it look like on the ground there in the hospitals that you serve?

Warner Thomas 

It's certainly a very challenging situation. Today we are in our fourth surge here in Louisiana. We're seeing our cases increase exponentially in the last month we're up 700% for the amount of patients that we're seeing in the hospital with COVID. And really, the pandemic has evolved with being a pandemic of the unvaccinated. 90% of the people we have in our hospitals with COVID are unvaccinated. And it's really just a situation where it's we see exponential growth in those cases--were up 67% in one week, and it certainly is growing exponentially every single day.

Willie Geist 

Louisiana has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Are you seeing any movement as these cases explode in your state as the hospitalizations go up? Is that motivating is that incentivizing people to take another look at the vaccine there.

Warner Thomas 

We are seeing some uptick just in the past couple of weeks, we've, you know, the Louisiana vaccination rate is about 37%. And as you were talking earlier, it is different in different parts of the state. In New Orleans, it's in the mid 60s. In other parts of the state, it could be in the 20s or low 30s. But we have seen an uptick in the past couple of weeks at our vaccine stations at Ochsner. We've vaccinated, we're getting about 500,000 vaccine shots across the state. So we are continuing to see that tick up. But once again, it needs to be faster and we need to see more people using the vaccine. It's proven we know it works and as going to the masking comment. I sent a letter to our governor last week asking him to reinstitute mandatory masking across the state have some mitigation factor. And he did put that into place. We hope that as a mitigation practice starts slowing cases down. But once again, as as this pandemic has evolved, you do have to change your approach. You know, if you go three or four months ago, we had very few cases. So masking probably wasn't as big of a deal today for this fourth surge masking is very important.

Jonathan Lemire 

Hey Warner, it's Jonathan Amir. And this surge you're seeing if hospitalizations tell us a little about the ages of the people you're seeing being admitted. And in particular, are you seeing a rise in younger people--these young adults? are these children? and what sort of ailments they have? And how seriously sick are they?

Warner Thomas 

That's a great question. If you go back to the first surge, which was March in April of 2020, our average age of a patient in the hospital was 69. The second and third surges, the average age was more closer to 65. In this fourth surge, what we're seeing today, the average age is 55.  Forty percent of the patients we see now are 50 years and younger. So we are absolutely seeing this variant impact the younger population. The other reason we see it impacting the younger population is because the vaccine rates and people 65 and seventy years old and over--is much, much higher. Now we're close to 75 to 80% of folks that are over 65 in Louisiana are vaccinated. And that's another reason that we're not seeing people older, being impacted by the Delta variant and being hospitalized. Once again, as I said 90% of the folks that are un-hospitalized in our hospitals today with a Delta variant. So we're in a very different situation today than we were in the first surge of the other challenge we've seen today is that, you know we're continuing to take care of lots of other patients who need medical care when we're trying to take care of this fourth surge.  You go back to the first surge. We had a lot of the other medical services shut down. We had shelter in place people were at home. So we didn't have as many other medical issues to deal with as we do today, when we're in this fourth surge. So at Ochsner, we take about five or about 50 transfers a day from other institutions that want to send us patients for a higher level of care. In the past 10 days, we've had to turn away 300 transfers because we cannot we cannot accept them given the level of COVID patients we have and give them a level and pressure on our staffing.

Willie Geist 

Mr. Thomas, the governor puts a mask mandate into effect on Monday and almost immediately the Attorney General in your state sent out a department wide email showing people how to get out of the mandate based on religious grounds or philosophical grounds saying a mask, for example, in a school could get in the way with commands and responding to God's love, as he put it in one of the emails. So what is the future of the mask mandate? Do you believe that there will be a mandate in schools in Louisiana, for example?

Warner Thomas 

I'm not sure you know how that will hand be handled and how it will play out. But what I would say is that we know masking works. And we encourage all of our patients, all of our communities that they should mask knew when they're indoors. We do believe schools and at Ochsner Health, schools going going back and being in in person is important. And with that, we think masking is important to protect the kids and also to protect parents as well. So but going back to that the way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated. It's proven we know it works. Four billion shots of the vaccine been given in the world 360 million in the United States. And we need to see more people in taking this this proven vaccine to protect themselves and to protect others.

Willie Geist 

All right, Warner Thomas, President and CEO of Ochsner health in Louisiana where hospitalizations yesterday, set a new record. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Thomas. We appreciate it. Still ahead on Morning Joe.

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Last modified on Thursday, 05 August 2021 16:33
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