After three months of reporting on a pandemic virus, you guys know me as somewhat of a “local expert” on COVID-19.

I promise you, I’m not.

The stories we get are because I bust my butt each day — working tirelessly to study trends, make connections and listen to the things that people in the medical field are saying.

My computer used to be a make-shift movie theater used mostly for YouTube and Netflix. Now, it’s been transformed into hundreds of excel spreadsheets choked full with data and choked full with all of the latest pieces of information that I can track — the things that I think are useful to you, our readers.

Yesterday, I dedicated my entire day — literally from noon until 6 p.m. to numbers crunching.

I pawned it off as work. But truthfully, I did it because I was nervous about the current uptick and wanted to discover more.

Boy, did I ever.

I studied hospitalizations in the state. I studied ventilators in use in the state. I studied who is suffering most from COVID-19 and who is not.

I started my day curious. I ended my day angry.

We have a COVID-19 problem in Louisiana. To the conspiracy theorists, naysayers and all others claiming otherwise, you’re wrong.

But it's a problem that's worse than it needs to be and all of us - every, single last one of us shares some of the blame.

And that's because another HUGE problem in our state is how woefully unhealthy we are, which has made a bad pandemic even worse.

I’d always seen the statistics, but I’d never put them into context until now. Never did I realize just how poor the state of Louisiana is in terms of its overall health and well-being.

Right now, in Louisiana, we have more than 9,000 people hospitalized with all ailments.

Listen to what I'm saying closely. At a time of a literal global pandemic, just 7 percent of our hospitalized patients are hospitalized because of the actual pandemic, itself. That means, of course, that 93 percent of the other patients have other stuff -- various ailments that combine to make us the unhealthiest state in the United States.

Sure, that 93 percent number, admittedly, is a little inflated because of some elective surgeries and procedures. But I crunched those numbers, too. It’s not inflated by much. I’ve been tracking total hospitalizations for months now. Our numbers today are not drastically different than they were a month ago before the surgeries were being done.

More than 400 patients are on ventilators in Louisiana WITHOUT COVID-19. Fewer than 80 are on ventilators with it. COVID-19, the pandemic virus sweeping our world, isn't even the most deadly respiratory ailment in our state right now because we're so damned unhealthy in other areas. 

That’s just not good enough.

We have to do better.

People in this state rank near the bottom in EVERY pre-diagnosed condition — them all. We’re more obese, less healthy and are more likely to get diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease and cancer because of it.

Our immune systems are lower, which means our death rates are higher when pandemic viruses threaten. Our COVID-19 death rate has been higher than other places in the country, which is a problem.

But it’s not COVID-19 specific. Our death rate is also higher for flu and all other ailments, as well, because our life expectancy as a state is near the bottom for the country.

We have to do better — myself included.

I challenge you all to do more to better your health.

Start small, but get active.

Don't be intimidated.

If you’re overweight and unhealthy and the thought of walking 15 minutes in Louisiana heat scares you, then walk 10 minutes and grow to 15, then 20, then more.

If you can’t afford “diet food,” then just simply eat less and find ways to get active.

Look, our culture will never allow us to be a state filled with super models and body builders. I understand the challenges we face.

But it’s also not too much to ask for us all to do a little bit more to be a little bit better and a little bit healthier.

If you eat fast food three times a week, cut it to one, and in that one, don’t supersize, but get the regular combo. If you drink 2 soft drinks a day, cut it to 1, then when that’s comfortable, cut it to one every other day.

It sounds trivial and small, but it all adds up and it all helps.

Our hospitals should not be as full in pre-pandemic times as they are.

And we can control that. We have a hand in our health and our future.

So join me — let’s do this together.

I ran for 20 minutes last night, and I intend to do similar things in the coming days and weeks.

Let’s get healthy together.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our shortcomings and have shown the country just exactly how unhealthy we are, and just how far we have to go to get to par in terms of physical health and general well-being.

Social distancing helps, yes.

Wearing a mask helps, yes.

But doing more to avoid the hospital in the first place is key, too.

That, as much as anything, can help us make room for patients when there's a national time of crisis.

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