CNN’s famed newsman Wolf Blitzer repeatedly hammered New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell in a live interview on Thursday for not cancelling this year’s Marti Gras carnival. It is widely believed that Mardi Gras, which brings an estimated 1.4 million revelers into the city, will be the reason that Louisiana will soon become the new epicenter for the deadly and very swift coronavirus. But Wolf had hindsight on his side, as well as the fact New Orleans, with its warm and wet and muggy humidity, is a giant-sized Petri dish. “There were no red flags from the government and, had we been given a clear direction, I would have been the leader to cancel it,” the mayor said in understandable helplessness.
Marti Gras, held every Fat Tuesday on the first day of Lent – 40 days prior to Easter – was on Feb. 25 this year. Nobody was worried about the coronavirus because there were just 14 cases in the entire United States at the time, all far away from The Big Easy. But since then the disease has exploded, particularly in Louisiana. CNN showed a graphic during Blitzer’s Thursday report that pointed to the fact there were 2,304 cases and 83 deaths – this as 510 new cases were reported that very day with well over half in New Orleans. At noon yesterday (Saturday) there were 3,315 at a rate of 500 per day, and the death count had jumped to 137 – the highest per capita in the country. (Saturday’s announcement there are 1,170 cases in Orleans Parish alone was 3.9 times the 299 cases reported one week ago.)
That’s harsh news, but it will soon be far worse. According to Louisiana Department of Health officials on Friday 773 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized. Of those, 270 required ventilation. By Saturday – just 24 hours later - another 154 COVID-19 patients had been admitted and now 336 (+66) were on ventilation. By the middle of next week there will be no available hospital beds. They plan to use the city’s huge convention center as a make-shift triage location, but, unlike most cities where the coronavirus is hours away from erupting like a volcano, New Orleans demographics guarantee unprecedented deaths.
Think about this: From Friday until Saturday, again in just 24 hours, 154 were admitted. Anybody not direly ill was sent back home. In just one day, 66 required ventilators and, what you cannot see, is that each patient represents a two-to-three week hospital stay. These people cannot be dismissed at anywhere near the rate others arrive. Chattanooga is predictably six-to-eight days behind in the cycle, just so you’ll know.
Some Louisiana victims must be placed in medically-induced comas – virtually paralyzed and totally on life support – and the daily demand will be greater with every coming day. There are 11 nursing homes where “clusters” of coronavirus have been identified in Orleans Parish, yet doctors, right now, must turn away the elderly and most at-risk because they must save room for a 32-year-old woman with three children under the age of six. Can you imagine such remorse?
Where New York City has 17 percent poverty and Washington’s King County is an estimated nine percent, New Orleans is 25 percent. Led by the lethal “Goose” neighborhood, the city is a crime hotbed. NOLA is always among the worst in America in many areas, crime the toughest to overcome. On top of 1,200 homeless, 24,000 are waiting for Section 8 housing and, until it becomes available, poverty housing, intended for one family, has three and four families living together in sardine-like squalor, as we found out in Hurricane Katrina.
Get this: One in every five New Orleans households has no access to an automobile. Forget drive-thru testing, and only about a fourth of those living in the city have Internet, according to a fresh USA TODAY finding. On Friday, the COVID-19 surpassed the 100,000 case mark, this just three days after it bounced past 50,000. Imagine that. Last night – one day later - it had risen by 8:30 p.m. to 123,311, with 2,211 dead. On the first day of this month there were about 100 cases on record; by Tuesday, on the last day of this month, I am thinking 200,000. What’s spooky is the 7 p.m. figures were 121,667 cases with 2,010 deaths... 90 minutes later there were an additional 1,644 cases and 201 more Americans dead.
In New York, where there are now 52,318 cases (728 deaths), the mayor is bellowing for more aid, but this is not a localized problem. The universal needs in the coming days are going to be impossible – do what you can for as many as you can. New Jersey, in second place on the most-cases list, is well off the pace, in second place with 11,124 cases and 140 deaths, but America’s Surgeon General Jerome Adams believes that will change after some other parts of the country, behind in progression, start to catch up. Chicago and Detroit – poverty cities – are in deep trouble and then there is New Orleans.
This week you will see a tragedy unfold beyond your wildest dreams. And the nightmare is that there is nothing anyone can do as we watch people die at the hospital’s door.