With the number of coronavirus cases in New Orleans multiplying rapidly, concern has been building that the city will become the next place to be overwhelmed by the pandemic. A Tulane Medical Center physician said Thursday that question has been answered, Fox News reports. "As far as fears it could be the next epicenter: I think that, unfortunately, I kind of think we are there," Dr. Joshua Denton said. New Orleans now has 997 cases; only 13 states have more. Of those patients, 676 are in hospitals and 83 have died, per WDSU. Louisiana has a total of 2,305 cases. One study found that in the two weeks after the state's first case was confirmed, per the New York Times, the disease's growth rate in Louisiana was the fastest in the world.
The first confirmed cases in New Orleans were among people who hadn't been out of town. The city's health director said doctors realized quickly that the cases "were not directly linked to each other"—they were dealing with community spread. Medical experts think they know at least one reason. "I think it all boils down to Mardi Gras," said Dr. F. Brobson Lutz Jr., a former city health director. "The greatest free party in the world was a perfect incubator at the perfect time." Crowds were in New Orleans for weeks for the celebration, which ended Feb. 25. Having endured a long list of disasters, and fearing another inadequate federal response—as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—residents fear this could be worse, partly because New Orleans wouldn't be the only place suffering. "This hurricane’s coming for everybody," a community organizer said. (Read more coronavirus stories.)