The New Orleans area has quickly become a coronavirus hotspot, and several medical experts say the Mardi Gras celebration during the week of February 25 played a big role.
As of noon on Thursday, according to the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), there were 2,305 cases of coronavirus in the state and 83 deaths. Forty-six of those deaths were in Orleans Parish, which borders the city of New Orleans and is part of the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner Metropolitan Statistical Area.
As the New York Times reported:
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 46 deaths — more than two 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 on Feb. 25.
It is the city’s trademark expression of joy — and an epidemiologist’s nightmare.
“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.”
Houma Today reported that Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, gives credence to that view:
“I will share a theory,” Edwards said Tuesday, acknowledging he isn’t an epidemiologist. “The first case confirmed 13 days after Fat Tuesday (Feb. 25) and happened in New Orleans. I happen to think a fair amount of (infection) was seeded (during Mardi Gras).”
Edwards isn’t alone in his theory. Experts from Tulane University and Louisiana State University have said the weeks-long celebration likely did help the virus spread in Louisiana.
Dr. Susanne Straif-Bourgeois, a professor of epidemiology at the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, said Edward’s statement during his press briefing was largely based on a model the flagship university provided to the governor’s office.
“When we modeled it and put all the parameters into that model based on data we know at that point, I actually assumed — and my colleague who works at the state health department assumed — that it had to be around Mardi Gras that someone was infectious,” Straif-Bourgeois said. “Then by mid-March or…early March, you just saw the people who were infected and are very severely ill. But by that point it already had like two or three weeks to really go through the community, through the population, and therefore infect other people as well.”
Another medical expert believes that underlying health conditions may have played a role in the dramatic increase of coronavirus in Louisiana, as NBC News reported:
While anyone is susceptible to contracting the virus, doctors in New Orleans have noted certain populations appear to be more likely to suffer the most dire complications: those with obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Louisiana consistently ranks near the bottom on state-by-state studies of those chronic diseases.
“Unfortunately, we’re a very unhealthy population,” Dr. James Diaz, professor of public health and preventive medicine at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, said.
On Thursday, a 17-year-old boy died of coronavirus in New Orleans, possibly the youngest victim of the pandemic in the United States to date, as NOLA reported:
The teenager’s death was among 18 new COVID-19 fatalities reported in an update from the Louisiana Department of Health on Thursday.
According to the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office, while the youth had contracted COVID-19 before dying on Sunday, the cause of his death remained under investigation.
The emergence of Louisiana and the New Orleans area as a coronavirus came on suddenly. Breitbart News identified one of the early signs of that emergence when it reported this week that one-third of the cases of coronavirus among veterans treated by the Veterans Health Administration around the country were found in the New Orleans VA Medical Center.