New Orleans emerges as next coronavirus epicenter, threatening rest of South

March 25 (Reuters) – 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, and that summer months could see it wane.



City skyline and Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States


© Gavin Hellier/Getty Images
City skyline and Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

The plight of New Orleans – with the world’s highest growth rate in coronavirus cases – also raises fears that the city may become a powerful catalyst in spreading the virus across the south of the country. Authorities have warned the number of cases in New Orleans could overwhelm its hospitals by April 4.

Bing COVID-19 tracker: Latest numbers by country and state

New Orleans is the biggest city in Louisiana, the state with the third-highest case load of coronavirus in the United States on a per capita basis after the major epicenters of New York and Washington.

The growth rate in Louisiana tops all others, according to a University of Louisiana at Lafayette analysis of global data, with the number of cases rising by 30% in the 24 hours before noon on Wednesday. On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a major federal disaster declaration for the state, freeing federal funds and resources.

Some 70% of Louisiana’s 1,795 confirmed cases to date are in the New Orleans metro area.

The culprit for the rapid spread of coronavirus in the Big Easy? Some blame Carnival.

“Mardi Gras was the perfect storm, it provided the perfect conditions for the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Rebekah Gee, who until January was the Health Secretary for Louisiana and now heads up Louisiana State University’s health care services division.

She noted that Fat Tuesday fell on Feb. 25, when the virus was already in the United States but before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and national leaders had raised the alarm with the American public.

  • Slide 1 of 50: A worker wearing protective suit looks at signs partially covered in foam while cleaning and disinfecting an underpass to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in downtown Budapest, Hungary, March 26, 2020.

  • Slide 2 of 50: HONG KONG, CHINA - MARCH 26: People walk past some fruit stall during a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on March 26, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Latest statistics showed Hong Kong tourist arrivals plunge more than 96 per cent.The whole month's visitor arrivals only account for a day's total in the first half of last year. The record-low figure was far worse than when the city came under the grip of SARS in 2003. (Photo by

  • Slide 3 of 50: PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 25: Police officers gather at night on an empty Trocadero square in front of the Eiffel tower on March 25, 2020 in Paris, France. The country has introduced fines for people caught violating its nationwide lockdown measures intended to stop the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has spread to at least 182 countries, claiming over 10,000 lives and infecting hundreds of thousands more. (Photo by

  • Slide 4 of 50: WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 25: Flanked by Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. President Donald Trump  speaks during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, in the press briefing room of the White House on March 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. The United States Senate continues to work on a $2 trillion aide package to combat the health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by

  • Slide 5 of 50: ROME, ITALY - MARCH 25: A general view shows a deserted via del Tritone during the emergency to stop the spread of the coronavirus  on March 25, 2020 in Rome, Italy. The Italian government continues to enforce the nationwide lockdown measures to control the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by

  • Slide 6 of 50: Empty yellow trailers used to hold airplane fuselages sit idle in front of a mural on a door at Boeing Co.'s manufacturing facility, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Renton, Wash., on the first day of a shutdown due to the spread of the new coronavirus. Boeing announced Monday that it was suspending operations at its Seattle area facilities.

  • Slide 7 of 50: People walk in an empty Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Officials have urged Washington residents to stay home to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

  • Slide 8 of 50: A sign is displayed at a coffee shop on March 25, 2020 in New York City. - The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the United States reached 60,115 on Wednesday while 827 people had died, a tracker run by Johns Hopkins University showed. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo by

  • Slide 9 of 50: A cleaner disinfects an alley of the Vila Ipiranga slum during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Niteroi near Rio de Janeiro Brazil, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

  • Slide 10 of 50: Migrant workers walk with their children as they look out for transport to return to their villages, after India ordered a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Amit Dave

  • Slide 11 of 50: A worker moves toilet paper at a storage facility of the Franz Mensch company in Buchloe, Germany, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert

  • Slide 12 of 50: People join a queue to buy maize meal at a supermarket in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, March 25, 2020.   Zimbabwe's public hospital doctors went on strike Wednesday over what they called a lack of adequate protective gear as the coronavirus begins to spread in a country whose health system has almost collapsed.  The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

  • Slide 13 of 50: People walk along Sandymount strand practicing social distancing as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Dublin, Ireland, March 20, 2020. Picture taken March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

  • Slide 14 of 50: Indian firefighters spray disinfectants as a preventive measure against the spread of the new coronavirus on a street in Gauhati, India, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. The world's largest democracy went under the world's biggest lockdown Wednesday, with India's 1.3 billion people ordered to stay home in a bid to stop the coronavirus pandemic from spreading and overwhelming its fragile health care system as it has done elsewhere. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

  • Slide 15 of 50: WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 25: Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management Sarah Stuart-Black speaks during a press conference ahead of a nationwide lockdown at Parliament on March 25, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand will go into lockdown from 11:59pm on Wednesday, as the COVID-19 alert level rises to four. All non-essential businesses will close at that time, including bars, restaurants, cinemas and playgrounds. Schools are closed and all indoor and outdoor events are banned. Essential services will remain open, including supermarkets and pharmacies. The New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expects measures will remain in place for about four weeks, and has said there will be zero tolerance for people ignoring the restrictions, with police able to enforce them if required. New Zealand currently has 205 confirmed cases of COVID-19. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

  • Slide 16 of 50: This combination of pictures created on March 25, 2020 shows an electronic 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games countdown clock on March 24, 2020 showing remaining days to the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics before the postponement announcement (L) and the clock on early March 25 after the announcement showing today's date instead of the countdown days (R) outside Tokyo Station. - Japan on March 25 started the unprecedented task of reorganising the Tokyo Olympics after the historic decision to postpone the world's biggest sporting event due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has locked down one third of the planet.

  • Slide 17 of 50: SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 25: Staff close the main gate at Taronga Zoo on March 25, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. Taronga Zoo has temporarily closed its doors to the public to help stop the spread of COVID-19, as the Australian government introduces stricter social distancing measures and the shut down of non-essential services. A new phase of shutdowns for Australian businesses comes into effect from midnight on Wednesday, with all libraries, museums, galleries, beauty salons, tattoo parlours, shopping centre food courts, auctions, open houses, amusement parks, arcades, indoor and outdoor play centres, swimming pools, and indoor exercise activities to be closed. These new measures are in addition to the closure of bars, pubs and nightclubs which came into effect on Monday, while restaurants and cafes are allowed to remain open for takeaway only. Weddings will now be restricted to five people including the couple. Funerals will be restricted to 10 mourners. All Australians are now expected to stay at home except for essential outings such as work, grocery shopping and medical appointments. Exercising outdoors alone is still permitted. There are now 2317 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia and the death toll stands at eight. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

  • Slide 18 of 50: Police officers stop vehicles and check their papers on a highway during 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kochi, India, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Sivaram V

  • Slide 19 of 50: MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 24, 2020: Russia's President Vladimir Putin wears a yellow protective suit on his visit to the Novomoskovsky multipurpose medical center for patients suspected of the COVID-19 coronavirus infection. Alexei Druzhinin/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS (Photo by Alexei DruzhininTASS via Getty Images)

  • Slide 20 of 50: Canada's Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez speaks in the House of Commons as legislators convene to give the government power to inject billions of dollars in emergency cash to help individuals and businesses through the economic crunch caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

  • Slide 21 of 50: A picture shows the closed shops and cafes in an empty street, with the Eiffel Tower in the background, in Paris, at night on March 24, 2020, on the eight day of a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) in France. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP) (Photo by

  • Slide 22 of 50: People practice social distancing as they sit on chairs spread apart in a waiting area for take-away food orders at a shopping mall in hopes of preventing the spread of the coronavirus in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

  • Slide 23 of 50: A man walking a dog past graffiti with the writing,

  • Slide 24 of 50: Pigeons fly at a deserted Gateway of India monument in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decreed a 21-day lockdown across the nation of 1.3 billion people “to save India” from the coronavirus pandemic.  For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness.(

  • Slide 25 of 50: US President Donald Trump, with Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, takes questions during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at the White House on March 24, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by

  • Slide 26 of 50: A woman wearing a protective mask walks by a shop with bears installed in line to show social distancing in Paris, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. French President Emmanuel Macron urged employees to keep working in supermarkets, production sites and other businesses that need to keep running amid stringent restrictions of movement due to the rapid spreading of the new coronavirus in the country. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (

  • Slide 27 of 50: Liverpool Street Station. March 24th 2020 was the first day of enforced lockdown in the UK, in order to stop the spread of the Coronavirus Covid 19. On what would normally be a bustling business / week day in London, the city was deserted, with just a few people in masks out on the street, plus a few taxis and mostly empty buses. (photo by

  • Slide 28 of 50: SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 24: Members of the California National Guard 115th Regional Support Group help pack boxes of food at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley on March 24, 2020 in San Jose, California. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has deployed the California National Guard to help distribute food at food banks across the state that have seen a huge decline in volunteers that usually help sort and pack food for the needy. (Photo by

  • Slide 29 of 50: Daily wage workers left jobless due to travel restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus, wait their turn to receive free food in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.  According to the World Health Organization, most people recover from the virus in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (

  • Slide 30 of 50: Two delivery boys on bicycles are seen, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, March 24, 2020.

  • Slide 31 of 50: A woman looks at her mobile phone as she sits near a fountain which has its statues covered with mouth masks in Antwerp, Belgium, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Belgium's stores, schools, restaurants and bars have closed and citizens have been asked to stay at home or to maintain a social distance from others. The highly contagious COVID-19 coronavirus can cause mild symptoms, but for some it can cause severe illness including pneumonia.

  • Slide 32 of 50: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks in front of stacks of medical protective supplies during a news conference at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center which will be partially converted into a temporary hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., March 24, 2020.

  • Slide 33 of 50: Tailors sew protective masks at a workshop of the Aviatsiya Halychyny brand, which changed its production lines from fashion clothing to produce protective masks to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lviv, Ukraine March 24, 2020.

  • Slide 34 of 50: A resident looks through a metal door while military police walk through the neighborhood to verify that the population follows the curfew order, as part of the measures against the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 24, 2020.

  • Slide 35 of 50: A security guard stands by beds installed inside the Festival palace  as Cannes Mayor David Lisnard decided to open a part of the palace to welcome needy and homeless as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, March 24, 2020.

  • Slide 36 of 50: A woman walks her dog under a

  • Slide 37 of 50: A woman stands inside the disinfection chamber at Juanda International Airport, in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, March 24

  • Slide 38 of 50: Military vehicles cross Westminster Bridge after members of the 101 Logistic Brigade delivered a consignment of medical masks to St Thomas' hospital on March 24, in London, England. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced strict lockdown measures urging people to stay at home and only leave the house for basic food shopping, exercise once a day and essential travel to and from work.

  • Slide 39 of 50: Security personnel wearing facemasks patrol on the streets in Shaheen Bagh area after removing demonstrators continuously protesting against a new citizenship law, while the government imposed a lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in New Delhi on March 24.

  • Slide 40 of 50: The Ruby Princess Cruise Ship is seen off the coast of Sydney on March 24, in Sydney, Australia. A passenger of the Ruby Princess who tested positive to COVID-19 has died in hospital this morning. There have been 133 cases of COVID-19 connected to the Ruby Princess.

  • Slide 41 of 50: People wearing facemasks buy supplies at a crowded vegetable market at Piliyandala on the outskirts of Sri Lanka's capital city Colombo on March 24, as the authorities briefly lifted a curfew to allow residents to stock up on essentials amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

  • Slide 42 of 50: Community organizer Henry Liu maintains social distance while greeting a resident as InterIm Community Development Association delivers free food to seniors in the Chinatown-International District during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Seattle, Washington,  March 23.

  • Slide 43 of 50: David Vazquez, a street performer dressed as the Joker, waits in hopes of pedestrians who will pay to take pictures with him in Mexico City, March 23. Vazquez, who also worked as a trainer in a gym until it shut down today, said business for street performers has plummeted, with the few clients still stopping opting to take their pictures from a distance or posing beside him awkwardly, amid the worldwide spread of the new coronavirus.

  • Slide 44 of 50: Employees eating during lunch break at an auto plant of Dongfeng Honda on March 23 in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. - People in central China, where the COVID-19 coronavirus was first detected, are now allowed to go back to work and public transport has restarted, as some normality slowly returns after a two-month lockdown.

  • Slide 45 of 50: Employees eating during lunch break at an auto plant of Dongfeng Honda on March 23 in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. - People in central China, where the COVID-19 coronavirus was first detected, are now allowed to go back to work and public transport has restarted, as some normality slowly returns after a two-month lockdown.

  • Slide 46 of 50: President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Monday, March 23, 2020, in Washington, as Attorney General William Barr and Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listen. (

  • Slide 47 of 50: Medical staff watch people waiting in line to get a coronavirus test outside the La Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Monday March 23, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (

  • Slide 48 of 50: TUNIS, TUNISIA - MARCH 23: Streets are seen empty after the nation-wide quarantine was declared as part of measures to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic in Sidi Bou Said town, near Tunis, Tunisia  on March 23, 2020. (Photo by

  • Slide 49 of 50: NITEROI, BRAZIL - MARCH 23: Members of a cleaning crew wearing protective suits spray public places with a disinfectant solution at Icarai neighborhood on March 23, 2020 in Niteroi, Brazil. These measures are aimed at stopping the spreading of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. According to the Ministry of Health, as of Monday, March 23, Brazil had 1.546 confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and at least 25 recorded deaths. (Photo by

  • Slide 50 of 50: Employees of the Vienna International Airport reload boxes with medical protective gear during the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Vienna International Airport in Schwechat, Austria March 23, 2020. Georg Hochmuth/Pool via REUTERS

The world is battling the COVID-19 outbreak which started in the city of Wuhan, China, and has spread around the globe killing thousands. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global pandemic on March 11.

(Pictured) A worker wearing protective suit looks at signs partially covered in foam while cleaning and disinfecting an underpass to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease in downtown Budapest, Hungary on March 26.

People walk past some fruit stall during a coronavirus outbreak on March 26 in Hong Kong.

Police officers gather at night on an empty Trocadero square in front of the Eiffel tower on March 25 in Paris, France.

Flanked by Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic on March 25 in Washington, D.C.

A general view shows a deserted via del Tritone during the emergency to stop the spread of the coronavirus on March 25 in Rome, Italy.

Empty yellow trailers used to hold airplane fuselages sit idle in front of a mural on a door at Boeing Co.’s manufacturing facility on March 25 in Renton, Washington.

People walk in an empty Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington D.C on March 25.

A sign is displayed at a coffee shop on March 25 in New York City.

A cleaner disinfects an alley of the Vila Ipiranga slum, in Niteroi near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 25.

Migrant workers walk with their children as they look out for transport to return to their villages, after India ordered a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of the virus, in Ahmedabad, on March 25.

A worker moves toilet paper at a storage facility of the Franz Mensch company, in Buchloe, Germany, on March 25.

People join a queue to buy maize meal at a supermarket in Harare, Zimbabwe, on March 25. Zimbabwe’s public hospital doctors went on strike on Wednesday over what they called a lack of adequate protective gear as the pandemic begins to spread in the country.

People walk along Sandymount strand practicing social distancing, in Dublin, Ireland, as seen in this picture released on March 25.

Indian firefighters spray disinfectants as a preventive measure, in Guwahati, India, on March 25.

Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management Sarah Stuart-Black speaks during a press conference ahead of a nationwide lockdown at Parliament on March 25, in Wellington. New Zealand will go into lockdown from 11:59 pm on Wednesday. New Zealand currently has 205 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

This combination of pictures, shows an electronic 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games countdown clock on March 24, showing remaining days to the opening ceremony before the postponement announcement, left, and the clock on early March 25 after the announcement showing today’s date instead of the countdown days, right, outside Tokyo Station.

Staff closes the main gate at Taronga Zoo on March 25, in Sydney, Australia. Taronga Zoo has temporarily closed its doors to the public as the Australian government introduces stricter social distancing measures and the shut down of non-essential services, while restaurants and cafes are allowed to remain open for takeaway only. 

Police officers stop vehicles and check their papers on a highway during 21-day nationwide lockdown in Kochi, India on March 25.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin wears a yellow protective suit on his visit to the Novomoskovsky multipurpose medical center for patients suspected of the COVID-19 coronavirus infection, on March 24, in Moscow, Russia.

Canada’s Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez speaks in the House of Commons as legislators convene to give the government power to inject billions of dollars in emergency cash to help individuals and businesses through the economic crunch, at Parliament Hill on March 24 in Ottawa, Canada.

Closed shops and cafes in an empty street, with the Eiffel Tower in the background, in Paris on March 24.

People practice social distancing as they sit on chairs spread apart in a waiting area for take-away food orders at a shopping mall in hopes of preventing the spread of the coronavirus in Bangkok, Thailand on March 24.

A man walking a dog past graffiti with the writing, “Wash Your Hands, We’re In This Together”, in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 24.

Pigeons fly at a deserted Gateway of India monument in Mumbai, India on March 24. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decreed a 21-day lockdown across the nation of 1.3 billion people “to save India” from the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump, with Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, takes questions during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus at the White House on March 24 in Washington, D.C.

A woman wearing a protective mask walks by a shop with bears installed in line to show social distancing in Paris on March 24.

Liverpool Street Station during the first day of enforced lockdown in the UK, in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus on March 24 in Liverpool, England.

Members of the California National Guard 115th Regional Support Group help pack boxes of food at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley on March 24 in San Jose.

Daily wage workers left jobless due to travel restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus, wait their turn to receive free food in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on March 24.

Two delivery boys on bicycles are seen, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 24.

A woman looks at her mobile phone as she sits near a fountain which has its statues covered with mouth masks in Antwerp, Belgium, on March 24. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks in front of stacks of medical protective supplies during a news conference at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center which will be partially converted into a temporary hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, on March 24.

Tailors sew protective masks at a workshop of the Aviatsiya Halychyny brand, which changed its production lines from fashion clothing to produce protective masks to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lviv, Ukraine on March 24.

A resident looks through a metal door while military police walk through the neighborhood to verify that the population follows the curfew order, as part of the measures against the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on March 24.

A security guard stands by beds installed inside the Festival palace as Cannes Mayor David Lisnard decided to open a part of the palace to welcome needy and homeless as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, on March 24.

A woman walks her dog under a “don’t panic” sign hanging at the entrance of a food market that was shut down in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, Israel on March 23.

A woman stands inside the disinfection chamber at Juanda International Airport, in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, March 24

Military vehicles cross Westminster Bridge after members of the 101 Logistic Brigade delivered a consignment of medical masks to St Thomas’ hospital on March 24, in London, England. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced strict lockdown measures urging people to stay at home and only leave the house for basic food shopping, exercise once a day and essential travel to and from work.

Security personnel wearing facemasks patrol on the streets in Shaheen Bagh area after removing demonstrators continuously protesting against a new citizenship law, while the government imposed a lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in New Delhi on March 24.

The Ruby Princess Cruise Ship is seen off the coast of Sydney on March 24, in Sydney, Australia. A passenger of the Ruby Princess who tested positive to COVID-19 has died in hospital this morning. There have been 133 cases of COVID-19 connected to the Ruby Princess.

People wearing facemasks buy supplies at a crowded vegetable market at Piliyandala on the outskirts of Sri Lanka’s capital city Colombo on March 24, as the authorities briefly lifted a curfew to allow residents to stock up on essentials amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

Community organizer Henry Liu maintains social distance while greeting a resident as InterIm Community Development Association delivers free food to seniors in the Chinatown-International District during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Seattle, Washington, March 23.

David Vazquez, a street performer dressed as the Joker, waits in hopes of pedestrians who will pay to take pictures with him in Mexico City, March 23. Vazquez, who also worked as a trainer in a gym until it shut down today, said business for street performers has plummeted, with the few clients still stopping opting to take their pictures from a distance or posing beside him awkwardly, amid the worldwide spread of the new coronavirus. “We have to pay rent, light, gas, telephone,” said Vazquez. “Where will we get that money? We all want to work.”

A child walks next to members of the “Psalm 100” evangelical church, dressed as angels and holding placards making reference to coronavirus (COVID-19) are seen during a demonstration at the Paso del Norte international border bridge as taken from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 23. 

Employees eating during lunch break at an auto plant of Dongfeng Honda on March 23 in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. People in central China, where COVID-19 was first detected, are now allowed to go back to work and public transport has restarted, as some normality slowly returns after a two-month lockdown.

President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference in the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House on March 23 in Washington D.C.

Medical staff watch people waiting in line to get a coronavirus test outside the La Timone hospital, in Marseille, France, on March 23.

Empty streets in Tunis reflect the nationwide quarantine declared by the government to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, in Tunisia, on March 23.

Cleaning crew in protective gear spray public places with disinfectant to halt the spread of Covid-19 in the Icarai neighborhood in Niteroi, Brazil on March 23.

Employees of the Vienna International Airport reload boxes with medical protective gear during the spread of coronavirus disease at the Vienna International Airport in Schwechat, Austria, on March 23.

50/50 SLIDES

Gallery by photo services

“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.”

Gee said that the explosive growth rate of the coronavirus in the Mississippi River port city means “it’s on the trajectory to become the epicenter for the outbreak in the United States.”

RESILIENT, BUT WARY

Dr. Peter Hotez is the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College, a renowned vaccine scientist and an expert on the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that the tight grip the virus is gaining on New Orleans was deeply worrying and a possible harbinger for worse to come across the south and for less densely populated and warmer cities across America.

“There has been some research and data suggesting that warmer, more humid weather could slow this epidemic,” he said. “The fact that this occurred on the Gulf Coast, which has some of the higher humidity and temperatures in the U.S., is a serious concern.”

Hotez noted that more research into how climate does or does not play a role in the spread of this coronavirus needs to happen, 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’ve not seen much in the hotter parts of the country. Texas has not had a lot. Arizona has not had a lot. Then all of a sudden – bam! – it appears in strength in New Orleans,” he said. “We have to follow this trend closely.”

Having an entirely new coronavirus epicenter kick off means that the United States may soon be dealing with multiple hot spots all at once, Hotez said – a worst-case scenario that could cripple healthcare systems.

If predictions were correct, the hospitals in New Orleans would struggle to manage past next week, Governor John Bel Edwards told a news conference on Wednesday.

“The trajectory of our case growth continues to be very alarming,” Edwards said. “We have a long way to go.”

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, said Hotez.

That is a serious concern for Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country and a major center for the oil industry. The two cities have historically strong links made even more so by an influx of New Orleans residents into Houston following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey.

On the ground in New Orleans’ famed French Quarter, residents said they were concerned, but that the virus was an entirely different threat from the natural disasters that routinely befall the city.

Jonathan Sanders, a 35-year-old general manager of the French Quarter brasserie Justine, said the city was calm and residents largely heeding authorities orders to stay inside.

“There is always something going on at all hours of the day or night. Now, without it all, it’s very peaceful,” he said. “You can park anywhere in the French Quarter.”

The virus, Sanders said, was so far easier to deal with than the death and destruction Hurricane Katrina unleashed in 2005, when over 1,800 people died along the Gulf Coast.

“When you think of the total destruction of Katrina… that was gut wrenching,” he said. “We’re fairly more resilient than other places that haven’t had so many tragic things happen to their city.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas Additional reporting by Jonathan Bachman in New Orleans Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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