New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has blasted President Trump for not taking the pandemic seriously, saying the city was given ‘no red flag’ from federal agencies to cancel its Mardi Gras celebrations which are being blamed for making Louisiana the future US epicenter for coronavirus.
Authorities have warned of the eerie similarities between New Orleans’ spike in coronavirus cases after Mardi Gras and Philadelphia’s surge in Spanish Flu in 1918 after it held a huge parade with 200,000 and 16,000 Philadelphians then died from the infection.
Louisiana state is seeing the fastest growth rate of anywhere in the world, with more than 2,300 people testing positive for COVID-19 and 83 people having died in the two and a half weeks since its first patient was reported on March 9 – a daily growth rate of 65 percent.
Experts have warned that the state could soon become the new Italy if cases continue to skyrocket on the current trajectory.
Hospitals could collapse under the pressure and New Orleans could run out of ventilators by April 2 if cases continue to skyrocket, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards warned Friday.
A 17-year-old boy in the state became one of the US’ youngest victims of the killer bug Sunday.
New Orleans is at the crux of the emerging crisis, with the Mardi Gras celebrations blamed for triggering the mass outbreak.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell spoke out Thursday, saying the city was given ‘no red flag’ from federal agencies to cancel Mardi Gras.
In an interview with CNN, Cantrell placed the blame for the potentially fatal celebrations going ahead at President Trump’s door, saying he should have warned the city to cancel the festivities and that agency guidance follows the ‘response of our national leader.’
‘Well, you know that the city of New Orleans as it relates to Mardi Gras, we plan Mardi Gras as a year-long effort. Around a part of our unified command is the federal government. Homeland Security, as well as the FBI,’ she said.
‘So in reaching out, meaning my health directors and public safety officials, every step of the way consulted with federal partners as well as the CDC in reference to COVID-19.’
She said the federal government partnered the city in running the celebrations ‘every step of the way’ and no ‘red flags’ were issued in the run up.
‘No red flags were given. So absolutely, we moved forward,’ she said.
The mayor slammed the president for not taking the deadly virus seriously enough as cases started to mount across America.
‘When it’s not taken seriously at the federal level, it’s very difficult to transcend down to the local level in making these decisions,’ she said.
Cantrell admitted that ‘in hindsight’ Mardi Gras should never have gone ahead: ‘In hindsight, if we were given clear direction, we would not have had Mardi Gras, and I would have been the leader to cancel.’
She added that the city did cancel the St. Patrick’s Day Parade as the pandemic escalated around the US by this date.
Worrying parallels are being drawn between the Mardi Gras and the 1918 parade in Philadelphia which has been touted as one of the main causes for the state’s spread of Spanish Flu, which devastated the area more than most and cost 16,000 lives in Philadelphia and wiped out about a third of the world’s population.
In 1918, when World War I was coming to a close, US cities held Liberty Loan parades bringing in thousands of revellers.
When the Spanish Flu pandemic ramped up, St. Louis canceled its parade but Philadelphia decided to plough on with its celebration in the city of 1.7 million people.
The virus had reached Philadelphia on September 19, 1918, infecting 600 sailors within a matter of days.
The parade took place on September 28, with 200,000 people in attendance.
Just three days later, there were 635 new cases in Philadelphia and every bed in the city’s hospitals was filled, according to UPenn.
Six weeks later, 12,000 people had died and there were 47,000 cases.
By the end of the pandemic, at least 16,000 had died and more than half a million had fallen ill.
By contrast, Saint Louis’ death toll reached 700.
The CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine said the Philadelphia parade shows how cancelling mass gatherings and practising social distancing can be critical to slowing an outbreak and saving thousands of lives.
‘This deadly example shows the benefit of canceling mass gatherings and employing social distancing measures during pandemics,’ the CDC said.
As fears mount that history could be about to repeat itself, questions are now being asked over whether a more rapid response to cancel the iconic Mardi Gras could have prevented the crisis around the corner for New Orleans.
Major events across the US have been canceled and postponed for the first time in their history as authorities have desperately grappled to bring the pandemic under control.
The NBA canceled its season while St Patrick’s Day parades closed in key Irish communities such as New York for the first time in over 250 years.
But New Orleans’ Mardi Gras went ahead, with millions of tourists flocking to the Big Easy over a period of several weeks, culminating with Fat Tuesday on February 25.
The direct fallout from the business as usual approach to Mardi Gras has already been seen, after New Orleans bounce DJ and radio personality DJ Black N Mild, aka Oliver Stokes Jr, rode on a float at the parade and started showing symptoms on March 9.
Stokes died from the deadly virus on March 19 at the age of 44.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old aspiring footballer from New Orleans died from coronavirus, becoming one of the youngest fatalities in the US.
It is not yet known if the boy attended Mardi Gras celebrations.
‘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 February 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.
At this point, there were still less than 100 cases around the country.
‘So 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. We shared floats where we were throwing not just beads but probably coronavirus off Carnival floats to people who caught it and took it with them to where they came from.’
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’.
Louisiana Senator John Kennedy also declared that people drinking during Mardi Gras caused coronavirus to spread in the state as they had weaker immune systems when they contracted the virus.
Kennedy then blamed the lack of information as to why people were so willing to travel to New Orleans to take part in the boisterous activities towards the end of February.
‘We’re a hot spot,’ the conservative politician said in a segment with Fox News. ‘It started in New Orleans. It’s moving into the rest of the state.’
He continued: ‘I think it has a lot to do with Mardi Gras. I think our friends in China were worried about their image more than the world’s health and sat on the news about this virus for longer than they should have.
‘We held Mardi Gras. People flew in from all over the world. We were in close quarters. One or two had too much to drink and lowered their immune system. They diminished their immune systems and we got a problem.’
As well as New Orleans residents, the celebrations draws crowds from around the world – meaning the potential vorus hotbed could have more far-reaching implications than the state alone.
Officials warned Thursday that the crisis is only beginning for the city and wider state.
‘This is going to be the disaster that defines our generation,’ Collin Arnold, director of the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, told CNN.
The number of cases in Louisiana jumped by 510 in a single day on Thursday, up 28 percent from the night before, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
The New Orleans metro area accounts for almost half of Louisiana’s infections – with 997 reported in the city to date, more than the total number in all but 15 states.
Orleans Parish, which includes the city, has suffered the highest number of deaths per capita of any county in the US with 46.
President Donald Trump issued a major federal disaster declaration for the state Tuesday, freeing federal funds and resources. Only five states have been issued the declaration so far.