R.Onald Lewis ‘house was one of the first to be rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina swept away much of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. In the 15 years after that city’s poorest neighborhood struggled to recover, Lewis became her most passionate attorney and culture master – founder of the House of Dance & Feathers, a community museum dedicated to the street culture of the African-American city.
But last week Lewis, the neighborhood 68-year-old hero, was one of the first in New Orleans to die after being infected with the novel corona virus that has struck this city and the entire state of Louisiana at a rate that is the worst corresponds in the world.
“I need to rest my mind and body. They both hurt, ”Lewis̵
“He was one of the best,” said his neighbor Jimmy Lewis. “After Katrina, he spoke for all of us. He was full of love and worry. “
As the afternoon sun began to set over the quiet streets of the ninth church, Lewis, another survivor of the hurricane who is remembered here, began to think about the current crisis – its similarities and its many differences.
“We have been flooded before, but this time it’s dry. They both flow. One by water, the other by air,” he said. “It will test our hearts and minds like last time, but we will overcome it again. “
While the corona virus pandemic is spreading across America, major outbreaks in the coastal cities of Seattle and New York City have dominated the headlines. But New Orleans, the historic city on the southern tip of Louisiana, has quietly become one of the worst affected areas in America.
By Wednesday there were 1,975 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Louisiana, more than 800 in New Orleans alone. 65 people were killed in the state by the virus, more than half in New Orleans. The death toll is only six fewer than in California, a state with 35 million more people.
An analysis by local news agency The Advocate earlier this week found that New Orleans had a higher infection rate per capita than some areas in New York City. Investigations by the University of Louisiana in Lafayette showed that coronavirus cases spread faster in the first two weeks than in any state or in any country in the world.
“If you look at what we saw around the world, if you think the situation in Spain and Italy is bad, then we are on the same path,” said Dr. Gary Wagner, who wrote the study.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration wavered from criticism of its botched national response to the crisis, the critics as Trumps “viral Katrina“- a reference to George W. Bush’s catastrophic response to the 2005 hurricane – made a similar Louisiana disaster statement following similar orders in New York, Washington, and California. Hours later, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards predicted a Democrat that the state would reach hospital capacity in the first week of April as it campaigned for more ventilators.
The sobering recognition surprised Dr. David Mushatt, head of the Infectious Diseases Department at Tulane University and one of the frontline staff who treat Covid-19 intensive care patients at the University Medical Center in New Orleans.
Doctors here, as in other places around the world, have started to discuss the ethics of rationing and prioritizing care because the beds are almost full.
“It breaks your heart because you know that patients are unlikely to receive the same attention that they would have if they didn’t have this infectious, deadly virus,” said Mushatt. “Under no circumstances can nurses and doctors spend as much time in the room as they want because there is not enough protective equipment.”
Mushatt, who was forced to isolate himself after being exposed to the virus by a patient, described the physical and emotional burden of directly fighting the disease.
“You fight for the most challenging life in your career, but it’s every single patient,” he said. “And then there’s the fear of the unknown. As bad as it is, will it get worse? Will we have enough fans? Nurses? Enough space?”
Other experts pointed to a number of factors that could explain New Orleans’ status as a hotspot for early corona viruses: in late February, the city celebrated the annual Carnival festival and attracted a million visitors to crowded street parades.
“We have a lot of people for these spring events and we are already a very close community,” said Richard Oberhelman, professor of community health at Tulane University. “Whenever you have large groups of people together, after the introduction, you have more options for transmission.”
Now the busiest areas of New Orleans are almost completely empty. Bourbon Street in the city’s historic French Quarter, which was filled with thousands of carnival celebrations a few weeks ago, is lined with boarded up shop fronts and bars. The buzzing of fluorescent signage is often the loudest noise on the block.
Edwards ordered a nationwide home stay order over the weekend to smooth the curve. However, the announcement of the infection rate and the death toll on Wednesday were the largest increases in Louisiana numbers to date.
“The problem is not that the cases are increasing every day, but that they are increasing dramatically every day,” said Edwards.
This deep southern state is also one of the poorest in America. 20% of the population live in poverty. The economy in New Orleans is dependent on tourism. As restaurants and bars are forced to offer takeaway services, many have started firing employees. The lawyer earlier this week, The paper that detailed the crisis here announced that it was forced to take leave of absence and cut wages by 20%. Nationwide unemployment benefits rose from an average of 1,400 new applications per week to 71,000.
In the only fresh grocery store in the Lower Ninth Ward, owner Burnell Cotlon, another local community leader, had to issue credit for the first time. Many of his loyal customers have run out of money to pay for staple foods like toilet paper, soap, and vegetables. The sum is already $ 722.13 – an important amount for his business.
“Musicians, hotel and restaurant workers, people who used to work 40 hours a day now have nothing left,” said Cotlon, who set up the business on a property destroyed by Katrina. “Some people come here crying and begging for work.”
Cotlon’s mother, who has just lost her job, is also self-isolated after being exposed to the virus.
“It’s like a nightmare again,” he said. “I remember coming back to Katrina and losing my home. I cried like a baby. To go through it all again … Words can’t describe it. “