The Covid19 virus seems to be spreading at a "much faster" rate in New Orleans than other American cities, New Orleans officials said Sunday.
Dr. Jennifer Begnaud, head of the city's health department, said more data is needed but the catch is - if we wait for the data "it will be too late."
"The numbers we see are very concerning. Based on available data, it appears rate of infection is increasing much faster than other cities in the US. That said, we need much more information to understand the spread. The trend we are seeing cannot be ignored," Begnaud said.
As part of the response, the city has agreed to be part of a federal four-city pilot program that will significantly ramp up testing, especially among first responders and health care workers, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at a press conference. It will be a limited, test program.
As far as the general public goes, Begnaud said that there aren't enough tests right now for people with no symptoms.
Cantrell said more tests are needed. That's especially true in New Orleans, which at this time is experiencing "significant community spread," Begnaud said.
"Even if you have no symptoms you can still pass this disease to your loved ones. Everyone has a role to play in our community. The decisions you make to day will save lives - or not," Begnaud said. "If you have a desire to congregate in a large group, you have to ask yourself: Is that desire worth putting someone else's life at risk?"
The danger is a spike in infections that overwhelms health care. Having a bed or a room in a hospital is not enough; the equipment and trained staff have to be there, Begnaud said. The local health care community is working now to identify retired health care workers who might be able to help in the coming weeks, she said.
"Today I was at one of the hospitals. Today they're doing OK. They're doing the best that they can. They're eally working hard and being creative about limiting interaction in the rooms," she said.
For instance, in some cases, the physician will talk to the patient using laptops in the room and right outside in the hall, she said. '
That's the reason for limiting groups, washing your hands, staying home, and all the other recommendations.
Cantrell once again pleaded with people to take "personal responsibility" in this crisis. Yesterday, New Orleans police had to break up huge crowds that apparently ignored the cancelation of the city's St. Patrick's Day events in the Irish Channel and the Quarter.
"Be mindful of not yourself having fun but preventing the spread of this disease that is causing harm, and even death, in our community. This is serious," she said.
Cantrell said she will pull permits if she doesn't get the response that's necessary from local businesses and groups.
"We will ramp up enforcement and more aggressive actions," she said. "You can't do business in New Orleans" without permits, she noted.
Cantrell said she's working closely with the hospitality and tourism industry, because restrictions on the number of patrons allowed in establishments are coming - and soon.
"We're not talking about days here," she said.
Cantrell said curfews have been discussed, and she's working with the hospitality community on that issue.
Cantrell and Begnaud encouraged residents who want to help to offer help or donations to organizations like Second Harvest Food Bank and the Council on Aging.