While everyone is susceptible to the virus, New Orleans doctors have found that certain populations are more likely to suffer the most serious complications: people with obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
Louisiana is consistently at the bottom of government studies on these chronic diseases.
“Unfortunately, we are a very unhealthy population,” said Dr. James Diaz, professor of public health and preventive medicine at the Health Sciences Center at Louisiana State University.
Diaz, born and raised in New Orleans with deep family roots in Louisiana and an accent to prove it, told NBC News that his home state was particularly susceptible to chronic diseases.
The month-long carnival celebration in February probably brought the corona virus to the region, but it is also likely that nobody will ever know exactly how the virus was introduced.
More than 1
The result is strikingly reminiscent of the events during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Cases and deaths increased dramatically in Philadelphia after local officials ignored the warnings of a brewery outbreak and allowed a city-wide parade to run as planned.
When the city changed course and restricted large crowds, it was too late. The virus had spread unchecked throughout the city, and the hospitals were flooded with nearly 50,000 cases.
There is a big difference between 1918 in Philadelphia and 2020 in New Orleans. This year there was no evidence that the corona virus spread during New Orleans Carnival. The first case in Louisiana was only publicly reported after March 9-13 after Mardi Gras.
During the month-long celebration, no one in Louisiana knew that the virus was likely to spread calm, except for a few people whose radar was set for viral diseases.
Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the Coronavirus outbreak
Joel Baines, virologist and professor of pathobiology at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, remembers attending a carnival party and was the only one who seemed concerned about the large social gathering.
He said tests are crucial to find asymptomatic spreaders: those who have been infected and who unwittingly transmit the virus to others, even though they are perfectly healthy.
“You really are a danger to the rest of the population,” said Baines. “It’s not their fault, but they do give viruses to people who are more vulnerable.”
The Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, agreed that tests are needed to stop the spread of the corona virus.
“The more we test, the better we can see how things are going in our city and where this curve is so that we can focus heavily on smoothing this curve,” she said.
For the time being, Cantrell suggests that “everyone has corona virus” and stay away from others as much as possible.
In the meantime, local hospitals are constantly flooded with severe COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Joshua Denson, an intensive care pulmonologist at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, estimates that he has twice as many respiratory patients as usual.
“The real problem is getting people off the fans,” he said. He estimates that half of the COVID-19 patients who need mechanical breathing end up dying.
“New Orleans needs help,” said Denson, “or the next week could be catastrophic.”
Follow NBC HEALTH on Twitter & Facebook.
Blayne Alexander contributed.