New Orleans is next coronavirus epicenter, experts say

New Orleans is on track to become the next coronavirus epicenter in the United States, dimming hopes that less densely populated and warmer-climate cities would escape the worst of the pandemic.


(SOUNDBITE) (English) LOUISIANA GOVERNOR, JOHN BEL EDWARDS, SAYING:

"Quite sadly the number of cases in Louisiana continues to rise more drastically than we would like."


Governor John Bel Edwards said on Wednesday (March 25) that, if predictions were correct, the hospitals in New Orleans would struggle to manage past next week.


(SOUNDBITE) (English) LOUISIANA GOVERNOR, JOHN BEL EDWARDS, SAYING:

"When we're pushing out the date in region 1, down around New Orleans where we think we might exceed our capacity to deliver healthcare to COVID-19 patients it would be in the April 4th to 5th time frame."


New Orleans is the biggest city in Louisiana, the state with the third-highest case load of coronavirus in the United States, behind New York and Washington state.


But New Orleans currently has the highest growth rate for infections in the world, leaving many wondering how it spread so rapidly here.


Dr. Rebekah Gee, who until January was the Health Secretary for Louisiana, says it was Mardi Gras.


(SOUNDBITE) (English) LSU HEALTHCARE SERVICES CEO, DR. REBEKAH GEE, SAYING:

"So what we need to focus on now is the fact that we are several weeks post Mardi Gras and we are starting to see that spike. And what the governor has indicated is that we are on a path to look like Italy. And we need to prepare for that. Certainly the measures that we put in are very stringent. The governor and the mayor have been very clear about stay at home, stay home to save lives. That being said, we're not going to see the impacts of those measures for a week to two weeks because that's how long the virus takes to create symptoms."


Some 70% of all Louisiana's confirmed cases to date are in New Orleans. Dr. Gee, who now heads up LSU's health care services division, notes that Fat Tuesday fell on Feb. 25, when the virus was already in the United States but before the CDC and national leaders raised the alarm with the American public.


(SOUNDBITE) (English) LSU HEALTHCARE SERVICES CEO, DR. REBEKAH GEE, SAYING:

"We need a better national strategy around how we get resources to those who need it where they need it when they need it."


New Orleans could well be the first major domino to fall in the south, starting a chain reaction in other metro areas in the region, according to the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College.


That is a serious concern for Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country and a major center for the oil industry.


Houston and New Orleans have historically strong links made even more so by an influx of New Orleans residents into Houston following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey.