As New York and California are seeing some of the highest rates of coronavirus cases, Louisiana’s largest city, New Orleans, is emerging as a Southern foothold for the virus.
Data emerging from the city paints a grim picture: New Orleans is now exhibiting the highest deaths per capita by county in the U.S., outpacing highly affected areas like New York City and Snohomish and King County, both in Washington state.
The Louisiana Office of Public Health corroborates the quickening spread of COVID-19 throughout the state, with 1,795 cases and 65 fatalities currently recorded.
A stay-at-home mandate went into effect on March 23, as Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) supported data that Louisiana is on the same growth trajectory as Italy, which has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases behind China.
"If we want to flatten the curve, we have to take action today," Edwards said at a press conference on Sunday.
Speaking to Reuters, Dr. Rebekah Gee, the former Health Secretary for Louisiana and current head of Louisiana State University’s health care services department, said that recent Mardi Gras celebrations were a likely breeding ground for the coronavirus.
“New Orleans had its normal level of celebration, which involved people congregating in large crowds and some 1.4 million tourists,” Gee told reporters. “We shared drink cups. We shared each other’s space in the crowds. People were in close contact catching beads. It is now clear that people also caught coronavirus.”
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Professor Robert Gary Jr., a virologist at Tulane University, however, disagrees.
“I’m certain that we had cases here in Louisiana, in the New Orleans area before the Mardi Gras event.” Gary acknowledged that any large gathering of people would enable the virus to spread, but that the outdoor party wasn’t an “ideal event for the virus to spread.”
He instead offered that close contact between people, where aerosol droplets can easily transmit, is the likely culprit. New Orleans, being an urban area with a popular bar and restaurant scene, has ample areas for this person-to-person transmission to occur.
“Those enclosed spaces are probably more likely” to act as a breeding ground for the coronavirus, Gary explained. “We need to continue social distancing,” he confirmed, as well as deploy other resources such as personal protective equipment and ventilators across health care facilities.
Gov. Edwards confirmed that New Orleans — like many U.S. cities — is at risk of running out of ventilators by April. This prompted him to request a Major Disaster Declaration, a designation that asks for increased federal support for state and local agencies. The request was approved by President Trump on Wednesday.
"I want to thank President Trump for his quick action on my request for a major disaster declaration for Louisiana. Because of the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Louisiana, we have overwhelmed our stocks of key resources and supplies for hospitals, first responders and emergency managers. This declaration should allow for additional resources from the federal government and provide us with more tools and equipment to treat the sick and increase our hospital capacity," Gov. Edwards said in a statement.
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