BATON ROUGE -- Fat Tuesday was Feb. 25.
Thirteen days later, Louisiana reported its first case of the novel coronavirus.
While Gov. John Bel Edwards believes a fair amount of COVID-19 may have been “seeded” in New Orleans during this year’s Mardi Gras festivities, any connection between the two is only speculative at this point.
Right now, he’s concerned with the facts.
“What is not a theory is what’s actually happening on the ground,” Edwards said. “We know it’s serious and the case count is much higher than we want it to be and we haven’t seen the trajectory change in regards to our growth rate.”
While it’s still unknown as to why the coronavirus has spread so rapidly through Louisiana, what’s certain are the 1,388 positive cases that have resulted in 46 deaths, according to the Department of Health’s latest figures.
Since the case was first confirmed in Louisiana on March 9, the state has seen a surge in the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has infected a reported 43 of the state’s 64 parishes.
This week, Edwards requested a “major disaster declaration” from the federal government, addressing his request to President Donald Trump. According to the governor’s request, the state has overwhelmed resources for hospitals, emergency managers, and first responders, and leaving these individuals without the necessary equipment for too long could further damage an already embattled state.
Less than 24 hours after Edwards submitted that request, Trump announced that Louisiana had become the fourth state to be approved for a “Major Disaster Declaration.” The move opens the door for millions more in federal funding, and potential access to government stores of healthcare equipment, supplies, and labor.
So far, it is estimated that state agencies have spent $71 million on fighting the coronavirus, and that number is expected to grow as the disease continues to spread through Louisiana at an alarming rate.
“It’s still growing more drastically than we’d like,” Edwards said.
The Bayou State currently has the eighth-most total cases of COVID-19 in the country, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University. However, the seven states ahead (New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, Michigan, Illinois, and Florida) all rank in the top 15 of overall population, while Louisiana sits at No. 25.
Louisiana currently has the third-highest rate of cases per capita in the country, behind New York and New Jersey but in front of Washington state, where the disease was first confirmed in the states.
However, Edwards has cited a study by the University of Louisiana Lafayette that shows Louisiana having the “fastest rate of growth” of coronavirus cases in the world, putting the state on a steep upward trajectory similar to that of Italy, the epicenter of the disease in Europe.
“There’s no reason we can’t be Italy,” Edwards said.
During his press conference Tuesday, Edwards shared a theory as to why the virus has spread so quickly in Louisiana, though he stressed it is “a theory at this point.”
With the state’s Mardi Gras festivities attracting visitors from all over the country and the world, Edwards said a “fair amount” of the coronavirus may have been seeded during that time in the New Orleans area, which is experiencing the most drastic numbers of coronavirus cases in the state.
“I happen to believe with people coming from all over the country and the world into New Orleans that a fair amount of coronavirus was seeded in that area,” he said. “That is a theory at this point. It may or not not prove correct.”
To “flatten the curve,” Edwards continued to implore people to adhere to his “stay at home” order, which is in effect through Sunday, April 12. He also said the state has “ramped up testing considerably,” reporting the 8,600 tests that had been completed as of Tuesday at noon, more than 2,000 more than the day before.
“This is a good thing because you never want to be in the blind about what you’re dealing with,” Edwards said. “The more testing we have… the better decisions we can make about what we’re facing.”
Edwards is scheduled to address the media Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.