Louisiana has the fastest growing rate of novel coronavirus in the world, the state’s governor, John Bel Edwards said at a Sunday press conference, pointing out findings from a University of Louisiana Lafayette study.
According to CNN, graphs that Edwards showed reflected an upward trend not unlike Italy and Spain, two of the hardest hit countries by COVID-19 cases and deaths. So far, the Louisiana Department of Health website reports 1,172 cases statewide, a spike of 335 since Sunday (March 22), and 34 deaths, but the state arrived at that number after reporting less than 100 a week ago.
Two weeks ago, there were no confirmed cases of the virus in Louisiana, Bel Edwards said. By last Sunday, there were 91 confirmed cases. By Sunday morning’s press conference, the state had arrived at 837 cases.
“That’s a ten-time increase in seven days,” Bel Edwards said. Louisiana’s Black population is 1.4 million or 32 percent. It is unclear how many African Americans in the state have tested positive.
The UL Lafayette data showed further that Louisiana's trajectory has surpassed New York state, which has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the nation at more than 35,000, and is also ahead of nations like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark and Qatar. It has the third highest rate per capita of diagnosed cases behind New York and Washington.
"There is no reason to believe that we won't be the next Italy," Bel Edwards warned.
One of the reasons for the intense surge in cases in Louisiana could be from one of its most popular cultural events: Mardi Gras.
The festival, which took place on February 25, drew at least 1 million revelers from all over the world to New Orleans and the surrounding area. Orleans Parish alone currently has 567 cases alone, followed by Jefferson Parish with 252, according to state data. COVID-19 cases now exist in 36 parishes, according to Bel Edwards.
Dr. Corey Hebert, chief medical officer at Dillard University in New Orleans and an assistant professor at Tulane and Louisiana State Universities told BET.com it’s likely that the annual festival is largely responsible for the spike.
“In Mardi Gras, people are one foot away from each other, but people were also showing no symptoms and were able to spread it,” said Hebert. “There’s really not many ways to get around that concept. It’s all speculation, but that makes the most sense.”
Hebert, said that’s why social distancing is key to flattening the curve of increased cases. “That was four weeks ago,” he said. “So Louisiana can flatten out, that’s why it’s important to keep people separated down here so it can flatten more.”
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During the press conference, Bel Edwards also issued a stay at home order for Louisianans, one of eight governors to do so. The order goes into effect on Monday and lasts until April 12. That followed a similar order from New Orleans mayor Latoya Cantrell.
"If you don't have any essential function or cannot safely maintain social distancing, you need to stay home," Cantrell said at a news conference on Friday (March 20). "Don't look for ways for the rules to not apply for you ... stay home."
For the latest on the coronavirus, contact your local health department and visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.