Tribune Staff Report

Earlier this month on March 9, Louisiana’s first presumptive positive case of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, was confirmed. Over the course of a week, a the total cases skyrocketed to 240, with most concentrated in the New Orleans metro area, including four coronavirus-related deaths as of New Orleans Tribune press time.

Several public gatherings, including St. Patrick’s Day parades, a second line, Super Sunday and the kickoff of Wednesday at the Square, were canceled out of an abundance of caution, along with several other large-scale events slated over the next several days.

All New Orleans Council on Aging senior centers were closed until further notice within days of the first confirmed case. 

Since then, the response has shifted into high-gear.

By March 12, most universities in the area, including Xavier University of Louisiana, Dillard University and Southern University at New Orleans, along with Loyola, Tulane, UNO and Delgado, announced plans for students to complete the semester on-line or through remote instruction.

On May 14, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the closure of public K-12 schools across the state until April 13 and called for a ban on gatherings of 250 people or more.

The April 4 presidential and municipal primaries were postponed until June 20, while the May 9 general election has been reset for July 25.

New Orleans Public libraries have closed temporarily.

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has announced that it will reduce its service schedule to run a weekend schedule every day and is encouraging passengers to ride for essential travel only.

New Orleans public libraries have closed temporarily.

The gaming industry is also taking a hit. Locally, the New Orleans Fair Grounds and Slots shut its doors at noon on Monday, May 16 for at least two weeks. The Fair Grounds Race Course will continue scheduled live races without spectators, allowing only essential staff and licensed horsemen in attendance.

On May. 16, Governor John Bel Edwards went a step further limiting the size of gatherings to fewer than 50 people, closing casinos, bars and movie theaters and limiting restaurants to delivery, take out and drive-through orders only.

The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) is leading efforts to respond to COVID-19. Locally, the New Orleans Health Department is in constant communication with healthcare providers to share the most up-to-date guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and LDH.

Presumptive positive tests will be sent to the CDCl for final confirmation. Meanwhile, Office of Public Health authorities in Louisiana will move forward as if the test is an actual positive and take actions to contain the illness and assess the risk of spread, including determining who has come in close contact anyone who has tested positive. Some people at risk may be quarantined for 14 days, even if their initial test is not positive.

Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego has been closed to the public through April 13 and its cabins and campsites are being prepared as possible isolation areas for the COVID-19 patients if needed, according to state officials.

Louisianans are still being encouraged to take the following proactive steps to protect the health of themselves and those around them:

• Cover your cough.

• Stay home if you are sick.

• Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, or with a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched areas in the home like faucets, sinks, toilets and doorknobs

• Avoiding close contact (within six feet) with those who are sick.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. Louisianans should seek medical attention if they experience any of those warning signs.

For local updates, visit ready.nola.gov or call 311. For updates on the state’s response to the coronavirus situation, visit LDH.louisiana.gov/Coronavirus. Members of the public with questions about coronavirus may call the coronavirus general information line at 1-855-523-2652 from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Potential for a Disparate Impact

A report in The New York Times detailed how coronavirus could devastate low-income Black and Latino communities, noting that the communities already face disparities—from the underlying medical conditions to socio-economic conditions, such as dense apartment living, a reliance on public transportation, a lack of health insurance and financial resources—that could make them more susceptible to the virus.

In an article published in The Los Angeles Sentinel, Dr. Donald Henderson, a Los Angeles internal medicine specialist said that for communities where social conditions already create a lack of healthy food options, inadequate health insurance and crowded conditions, the best defense against COVID-19 is prevention.

Carol Joyner, director of the Labor Project for Working Families during a recent convention of the Black Women’s Roundtable in Los Angeles pointed out that the working poor will also take an economical hit.

“This is happening in a moment when 40 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have a single paid sick day, “she said in The Sentinel report. “The CDC says ‘stay home to prevent the spread of the disease’. But if you stay home, you’re likely to not get paid. We’re talking bus drivers, child care workers and restaurant workers, for example.”

Speaking to The Undefeated, Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, called coronavirus “a threat that African Americans need to take particularly seriously.”

“We get a lot of misinformation circulating through our communities,” Benjamin said. “We fundamentally don’t trust some of the [non-Black] institutions because they do not serve us well. We need to make sure our trusted institutions, clinicians of color, churches, community organizations, are better educated.”

In The Undefeated article, Dr. Benjamin continued “I think the biggest challenge is the fact that…African Americans, start out with health outcomes that are disproportionately poor when compared to White Americans. With African Americans, you start with a population that is disproportionately sicker, and if it gets exposed, it will have a higher death rate.”

The first two coroner virus deaths in New Orleans were Black men under the age of 60, according to reports.

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