(Reuters) – New Orleans is well on its way to becoming the next coronavirus epicenter in the United States. There is hope that less densely populated cities with a warmer climate will not be as badly affected by the pandemic and that the summer months may ease.
A man walks past a boarded up shop in Frenchmen Street on March 25, 2020 after the outbreak of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in New Orleans, Louisiana, the United States. REUTERS / Jonathan Bachman
The plight of New Orleans – with the world’s highest growth rate of coronavirus cases and where the authorities have warned that hospitals may collapse by April 4 – also fears that this will be a powerful catalyst for the rapid spread of the virus in the south of the world Country could be.
New Orleans is the largest city in Louisiana, the state with the third highest coronavirus fallload per capita in the United States after the major epicentres of New York and Washington. According to an analysis of global data from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the growth rate in Louisiana outperforms everyone else, with the number of cases increasing by 30% in the 24 hours before noon on Wednesday. On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump made a major federal disaster statement for the state that released federal funds and resources.
Approximately 70% of the 1,795 cases previously confirmed in Louisiana are in the Greater New Orleans area.
The culprit for the corona virus in the Big Easy? Some blame carnival.
“Carnival was the perfect storm, it provided the perfect conditions for the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Rebekah Gee, who was Secretary of Health for Louisiana until January and now heads the Department of Health Services at Louisiana State University.
She noted that fat Tuesday fell on February 25, when the virus was already in the United States, but before the disease control and prevention centers and national leaders triggered the alarm among the American public.
“This was how New Orleans had its normal party level, where people gathered in large crowds and around 1.4 million tourists,” said Gee. “We shared beverage cups. We shared the room in the crowd. We shared swimmers, on whom we not only threw pearls, but probably also coronaviruses from carnival swimmers, with people who caught them and took them where they came from. ”
Gee said the explosive growth rate of coronavirus in the port city of Mississippi River means that “it is on the way to becoming the epicenter for the outbreak in the United States.”
Resilient but careful
Dr. Peter Hotez is Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College, a renowned vaccine scientist and an expert on the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the rapid impact of the virus on New Orleans was deeply worrying and a possible harbinger of the worst in the south and less populated and warmer cities across America.
“There is some research and data that suggests that warmer, wetter weather could slow this epidemic,” he said. “The fact that this happened on the Gulf Coast, which has some of the higher levels of humidity and temperature in the United States, is a serious problem.”
Hotez noted that further research into how the climate plays a role in the spread of this corona virus or not needs to be done, but acknowledged that experts hoped that warm weather and the coming summer months in the northern hemisphere would be natural buffers against it.
“If you look at this epidemic, we haven’t seen much in the hotter parts of the country. Texas hasn’t had much. Arizona hasn’t had much. Then suddenly – bam! – New Orleans seems to be strong,” he said “We have to follow this trend closely.”
A whole new start to the coronavirus epicenter means the U.S. may soon be dealing with multiple hot spots at the same time, said Hotez – a worst-case scenario that could cripple healthcare systems.
If the predictions were correct, hospitals in New Orleans would have trouble managing it last week, Governor John Bel Edwards said at a press conference Tuesday.
New Orleans could be the first large domino to fall in the south, triggering a chain reaction in other metropolitan areas in the region, Hotez said.
This is a serious problem for Houston, the country’s fourth largest city and an important center of the oil industry. The two cities have historically strong ties that have been reinforced by the influx of New Orleans residents to Houston after Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey.
On the spot in New Orleans’ famous French Quarter, residents said they were definitely concerned, but the virus was a different threat from the natural disasters that routinely hit the city.
Jonathan Sanders, a 35-year-old general manager of the Justine brasserie in the French Quarter, said the city is quiet and residents have largely followed government orders to stay indoors.
“There is always something going on at all times of the day and night. Now it’s very peaceful without anything, ”he said. “You can park anywhere in the French Quarter.”
The virus, says Sanders, is far easier to fight than the death and destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when more than 1,800 people died on the Gulf Coast.
“When you think of the total destruction of Katrina … that was a hard blow,” he said. “We are more resilient than other places where so many tragic things haven’t happened in your city.”