A Different Kind of Storm: New Orleans Facing Deadly Virus Outbreak

By: New York Times | New Orleans | Published: March 26, 2020 8:44:42 pm

New York sees glimmer of progress against coronavirus, New Orleans worsens

New Orleans, where large crowds celebrated Mardi Gras a month ago, was on track to become the next U.S. epicenter.

The coronavirus outbreak here has become one of the most explosive in the country.

According to one study, Louisiana, with nearly 1,800 cases as of Thursday morning, is experiencing the fastest growth in new cases in the world. Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday that the current trajectory of case growth in Louisiana was similar to those in Spain and Italy.

This week, President Donald Trump approved the governor’s request for a major disaster declaration, which unlocks additional federal funding to combat the outbreak.

The situation in and around New Orleans is particularly acute, with the city reporting 827 confirmed cases as of Wednesday night, more than the total number of cases in all but 15 states. Hospitals are overwhelmed and critical safety gear is running low.

Orleans Parish, which shares its borders with the city of New Orleans, has suffered the highest number of deaths per capita of any county in the nation. Of the parish’s 37 deaths — nearly three times the death toll of Los Angeles County — 11 are from a single retirement home, where dozens more residents are infected.

In a grim irony, there is a rising suspicion among medical experts that the crisis may have been accelerated by Mardi Gras, the weekslong citywide celebration that unfolds in crowded living rooms, ballrooms and city streets, which this year culminated Feb. 25.

“I think it all boils down to Mardi Gras,” said Dr. F. Brobson Lutz Jr., a former health director of New Orleans and a specialist in infectious disease. “The greatest free party in the world was a perfect incubator at the perfect time.”

Dr. Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said there were other likely reasons, beyond Mardi Gras, that may explain why New Orleans has been so hard-hit — the dense, compact nature of the city; its tourism industry; its port, which connects it to the world; and the way people connect culturally.

“Everybody talks to everybody, which means you stop and you have a conversation and then you move on and have a conversation with somebody else,” said Hassig.

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