Coronavirus: Virus spreads quickly at New Orleans retirement home

Published 9:03 am Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A dozen residents of a New Orleans retirement home are now infected by the coronavirus, which has proven more lethal for older people than other age groups, Louisiana’s governor said.

The latest death from COVID-19 was a resident of the Lambeth House retirement home in New Orleans, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

The 84-year-old New Orleans man has become the third person in Louisiana to die from the new coronavirus.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno, leader of the city health department, stressed that the virus was spreading much faster in New Orleans than in other U.S. cities.

“This is a rapidly changing situation,” she said. “There is substantial community spread.”

The governor has ordered bars, gyms and movie theaters to close and limited restaurants to delivery and takeout.

The number of positive tests for the virus in Louisiana reached 136 by Monday afternoon, according to the state health department’s latest figures.

Most of those newly testing positive were in New Orleans but there were cases in the northwest corner of the state and a new case in Ascension Parish near Baton Rouge — the first in the area of the state capital. Before that was announced, state legislators had already agreed to temporarily suspend their lawmaking session.

The Democratic governor said the new restrictions take effect Tuesday and will last until April 13. Casinos also will shutter, and public gatherings of 50 people or more will be banned. No one will be allowed to eat onsite at a restaurant. Edwards warned the situation will be reevaluated before business operations can resume as normal, to determine whether restrictions should be continued.

“What we’re learning is that it can take two weeks for symptoms to appear. We believe we are still unearthing community spread that’s been around for the past several weeks, which means it is a statewide problem that requires statewide solutions,” the governor said in a statement.

At a news conference, Edwards emphasized the actions are aimed at slowing the spread of the virus to avoid strain on the health care system. “We are at risk for exceeding the ability we have to deliver health care if we don’t slow the transmission,” he said.

Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a doctor, said Louisiana has the third-fastest infection rate in the country and the confirmed cases do not reflect the number of infections. He called on his state’s residents to heed the warnings of officials:

“This is the only way to minimize the number of lives lost. We must work together.”

In hopes of slowing the spread of the virus across Louisiana, Edwards last week closed K-12 schools and delayed the state’s presidential primaries. His actions are mirroring similar decisions by governors in other states. Louisiana’s Supreme Court on Monday ordered a delay until at least March 30 for all jury trials that haven’t yet started and postponements of some other court proceedings. Other state and federal courts also were announcing various restrictions or suspensions of activities.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Legislature voted Monday to adjourn it’s legislative session until March 31. That came after initial plans to continue working prompted an outcry over the public health risks.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell called on people to keep family gatherings to a reasonable size. She also urged internet providers to find a way to get wireless internet to everyone across the city — such as students needing access to lesson plans while schools are shuttered.

In heavily Catholic New Orleans and in Baton Rouge, church leaders announced cancellation of masses until further notice.
Because of the cluster of cases in New Orleans, at least one Baton Rouge hospital, Our Lady of the Lake, announced that no one who has visited New Orleans or neighboring Jefferson Parish in the last 14 days will be allowed to enter the facility.