March 26, 2020 | 2:01pm | Updated March 26, 2020 | 2:40pm
New Orleans is likely to become the nation’s new coronavirus epicenter — and experts say Mardi Gras celebrations that attracted millions to the city may be partly to blame.
To date, Louisiana has seen nearly 1,800 coronavirus cases, with at least 65 reported deaths. New Orleans is responsible for 800 of those cases and 37 deaths.
Even more troubling, the growth rate of COVID-19 infections in the state tops all others worldwide, according to a University of Louisiana at Lafayette analysis of global data.
In an interview on FOX News’ “America’s Newsroom,” Dr. Joshua Denson, critical care physician at Tulane Medical Center, said that “every day more [cases] add up.”
“As far as fears [New Orleans] could be the next epicenter: I think that, unfortunately, I kind of think we are there,” Denson said.
It’s likely that the city’s Carnival celebrations — which ran from Jan. 6 until Mardi Gras, Feb. 25 — drawing about 1.4 million revelers, could have played a role in spreading the bug throughout the Crescent City and other Louisiana parishes, Denson told NBC News.
“I think it came during Mardi Gras, given the timing of it,” the doctor said. “Someone brought it here and then it starts spreading slowly.”
“I diagnosed the second case, the first critically ill patient, here last weekend,” he told the network. “Her timing was about two weeks post-Mardi Gras.”
The incubation period for the virus is generally two to 14 days, according to the CDC.
Dr. Rebekah Gee, who served as Louisiana’s health secretary until January and now heads up Louisiana State University’s health care services division, called Mardi Gras “the perfect storm.”
“New Orleans had its normal level of celebration, which involved people congregating in large crowds and some 1.4 million tourists,” Gee said. “We shared drink cups. We shared each other’s space in the crowds. People were in close contact catching beads. It is now clear that people also caught coronavirus.”
Most of the city’s parades attract thousands of people each and extend for about five miles.
Bourbon Street in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
A view of an empty Bourbon Street on Wednesday.
EMS personnel bring a patient into the emergency center at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center in New Orleans.
A New Orleans police car patrols Bourbon Street on Wednesday.
“During Mardi Gras, people were not thinking about social distancing or hand-washing,” Dr. Richard Oberhelman, chairman of the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, told NBC.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards requested a major disaster declaration for the state Tuesday, which was approved by President Trump.
With Post wires