Medical experts are looking at Mardi Gras as a possible catalyst for the spike in novel coronavirus cases in New Orleans.
According to the New York Times, with nearly 1,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 26, Louisiana is following the trajectory of Spain and Italy and is now experiencing the fastest growth of new cases in the world.
In New Orleans specifically, as of March 25, the city reported 827 cases of the virus — a number that tops more than the total number of cases in all but 15 states.
Dr. F. Brobson Lutz Jr., an infectious disease specialist, told the New York Times that these chart-topping numbers could be linked to Mardi Gras, New Orleans’ weeks-long celebration which started on Feb. 25.
As Mardi Gras draws thousands of people, crowding the streets, bars and restaurants, Lutz Jr. explained that it was the ideal environment to spread the disease.
“I think it all boils down to Mardi Gras,” Lutz Jr. said. “The greatest free party in the world was a perfect incubator at the perfect time.”
However, Dr. Catherine S. O’Neal, an infectious disease specialist, said that when Mardi Gras began last month, Louisiana hadn’t even identified its first case.
“We were still talking about handwashing,” she said, adding that it wasn’t the fault of anybody to not take precautions at the time.
Not only was Mardi Gras a major factor in spreading the disease, but Dr. Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Tulane University, said the friendly culture of New Orleans also played a role.
“Everybody talks to everybody, which means you stop and you have a conversation and then you move on and have a conversation with somebody else,” she told the Times.
Shortly after cases in the state began to ramp up, schools closed and public gatherings in New Orleans were banned. The governor also announced all restaurant dining rooms and bars would close, similar to orders put in place in another states.
As of March 25, the governors of 18 states have opted to place their entire state under a stay-at-home order. California was the first to do so on March 19, and New York and Illinois followed the next day.
There are at least 68,534 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and 990 people have died as of March 26, according to the Times database.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.
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