4 coronavirus deaths in New Orleans, 2 at retirement home

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Louisiana reported its fourth death from the coronavirus Tuesday, the second at a New Orleans retirement home where at least a dozen people have tested positive for the virus that has proven more lethal for older people than other age groups.

The latest victim from the Lambeth House was an 80-year-old man, the state announced. Earlier, Gov. John Bel Edwards said an 84-year-old resident of the retirement home in New Orleans became the third victim. Two other New Orleans residents also have died.

Lambeth House was awaiting results on more than a dozen other tests, spokesman Greg Beuerman told The Associated Press. Nobody in the home’s assisted living or nursing care facilities has tested positive, so far.

Beuerman said the home requested and received the go-ahead from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin on-site testing last week after the first resident who showed symptoms tested positive. He said visitation was restricted at Lambeth House on Thursday, before the state ordered such restrictions.

“They are free to walk the property. I was just out in the parking lot; there was a gentleman riding his bicycle, there was a woman walking her dog,” Beuerman said. “They’re free to be out but they are not empowered or enabled to congregate or spend time together outside of their individual apartment units.”

On Monday, 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.

“There is substantial community spread,” she said.

The governor has ordered K-12 public schools, bars, gyms, casinos and movie theaters to close and has limited restaurants to delivery and takeout until at least April 13. Public gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. All nonessential dental procedures are prohibited. In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Contrell issued a proclamation banning all public and private gatherings. Louisiana lawmakers have temporarily adjourned their ongoing legislative session.

And the state’s presidential primary slated for April 4 has been pushed back to June, joining Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky and Georgia in postponing primary elections.

The number of positive tests for the virus in Louisiana reached 171 by Tuesday, 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 case in Ascension Parish near Baton Rouge – the first in the area of the state capital.

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.

Edwards’ office said Tuesday he has requested the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide disaster loans for Orleans and Jefferson parishes – the two with the highest number of cases. And he said he plans to ask for such aid for all 64 parishes.

The Democratic governor emphasized his 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. 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.”

But one GOP congressman was highly critical of Edwards actions in a video posted on Facebook.

“These people that own these businesses, they can make up their own mind. They’re not stupid,” U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins said while standing at a largely empty southwest Louisiana shopping center.

Edwards’ actions are mirroring similar decisions by governors in other states, which have taken drastic measures upon the urging of public health officials to try and contain the virus’ spread.

Though the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its lawmaking session until March 31, its staff are being required to continue with their usual work schedule – and to report to the state Capitol building to do it – unless they are sick, have symptoms of the virus or have come into contact with someone who’s been exposed to the virus. The message comes even as health officials and Edwards are urging people to work from home if possible.

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