Why Louisiana has one of the highest coronavirus infection rates

  • The decision to hold Mardi Gras majorly accelerated the spread
  • Louisiana is No. 25 in population in the U.S., but No. 13 in COVID-19 cases
  • The state ranks as the 49th healthiest state

Despite being the 25th-most populated state in the United States, Louisiana was leading the entire world in the growth rate of COVID-19 by the end of March, according to the governor. As of May 10, the virus has been responsible for 31,600 total cases and 2,213 deaths in Louisiana, according to the state’s Office of Public Health. That’s the 13th-most number of cases of any state in the U.S., though it had once been in the top-10. 

Additionally, there are nearly 1,324 people currently hospitalized with the disease, and 161 of those patients on ventilators.

There are a number of factors at play for why Louisiana has been hit so much harder than other parts of the country. 

Governor John Bel Edwards points to the fact that Louisiana residents have generally faced greater health issues than other Americans—even before the global pandemic took hold of the country. The state was ranked 49th in the United Health Foundation’s 2019 state-by-state health assessment, with high levels of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and kidney disease reported among residents.

“We have more than our fair share of people who have the comorbidities that make them especially vulnerable,” Edwards said in a recent statement.

However, that may be only part of the problem.

Tulane University health economist Engy Ziedan believes that other factors may include inadequate testing early into the crisis, as well as the questionable allocation of critical resources such as ventilators. “Are we testing too late?” she asked, via the Wall Street Journal. “Are we waiting until someone develops a really bad cough and has no option but to show up to the hospital and needs a ventilator?”

“It’s an easy scapegoat to say, ‘Oh, Louisiana is doing poorly on deaths per hospitalization because this is an obese population, they are Southerners, they are ill,’” she added.

The Mardi Gras effect

Meanwhile, just as reports of coronavirus were being reported in the U.S. in late February, more than 1 million visitors descended on New Orleans for the city’s annual Mardi Gras festival—which saw streets overflowing with parades and revelers.

In the aftermath, two of the state’s parishes (Louisiana’s equivalent of counties)—including the Orleans Parish, which encompasses the city, and the neighboring St. John the Baptist Parish—have seen the highest number of virus-related deaths per capita nationwide.

“We get a lot of people for those springtime events, and we’re already a very close-knit community,” Tulane University professor of community health Richard Oberhelman said, via the Guardian. “Anytime you have large groups of people together, then you’re going to have more opportunities for transmission once it’s introduced.”

Sources: Louisiana Department of Health, Louisiana.gov, CNN, Guardian, Wall Street Journal

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