New Orleans in the eye of the storm



Posted today at 5:45 am, updated at 8:55 am

February 25 was a time of mockery and laughter on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana. Party people disguised as baguenaud virus roamed the streets overrun by Mardi Gras carnival parades. Jokes in protective suits were distributing fake vaccines; others, made up into an improbable bottle of Corona beer, put the laughers on their side. Visionaries or cheating death, all were playing with a danger which, in the United States, was not yet one. It was not until March 11 that President Donald Trump spoke about the first measures of social distancing, in order to fight the Covid-19 epidemic.

Less than two months after these happy celebrations, the sound of ambulance sirens replaced the swaying tunes of jazz bands and colorful bands. These nagging cries all too often break the silence that fell on the streets of the French Old Square, where, in February, nearly 1 million people from all over the country and around the world had converged. Today, tourists have disappeared; the street musicians were silent. On March 23, John Bel Edwards, the Democratic governor of Louisiana, imposed strict confinement on the population of states such as New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey.

Read also Coronavirus: more than 10,000 dead in the United States since the start of the epidemic

Since the first patient was detected on March 9, Louisiana has had one of the highest infection rates in the country. And New Orleans, a welcoming, touristy, but densely populated port city, is poised to pay one of the heaviest tolls from the pandemic. With 16,200 cases and 582 deaths recorded Tuesday, April 7 (of which nearly 25% are under the age of 60) for a population of 4.6 million, Lousiane is close to New York. In two state counties, the death toll per capita is even the highest in the country. This sad record owes nothing to chance: while the virus made its way silently through still healthy bodies, the carnival left the disease in its wake, affecting a population already weakened by chronic diseases, conducive to contamination.

Rigorous containment

"All the positive energy that usually drives the city is gone", says Susan Hassig, epidemiologist, professor at Tulane University, whose office overlooks one of the hospitals in New Orleans. In a city renowned for its Latin culture and its social life, a thousand miles from the reserve that social distancing now imposes, the teacher is almost surprised at the rigor with which the population follows the confinement instructions. "Since the Hurricane Katrina disaster (in 2005) and its mismanagement by the federal administration, we trust local authorities more than national officials. A lot of people are unemployed, but you don't see them on the street. In the cities, most of the inhabitants know a sick person or a victim of the virus. It encourages you to take things seriously and stay at home. "


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