Did Mardi Gras Incubate the Coronavirus?

11:37 March 20, 2020
By: Molly Kellogg

Recent statistics have suggested, in the past few days, New Orleans has turned into a hub for coronavirus, hinting at a possible connection to Mardi Gras. Investigators have begun studies on the timing of the population surge and other dynamics of Carnival.

When you think about it - it seems to line up. Mardi Gras season allows for many activities that scientists attribute as acting as incubators for this fast-paced pandemic to spread.

Dr. Richard Oberhelman, chair of the Global Community Health Department of Tulane's School of Public Health, explains, "I think the timing is definitely right."

Fat Tuesday, the pinnacle of Mardi Gras, was three weeks ago. At that point - there were no positive cases in Louisiana. As of Tuesday, the number of cases has increased to 116, ranking New Orleans among the worst in the country per capita for the coronavirus outbreak. When considering the incubation period, it starts to make sense that people might have been infected during Mardi Gras.

Oberhelman further explains that the very nature of Mardi gras allows for New Orleans to serve as a 'petri dish' for the pandemic. "Besides the fact that you have people all over the world, what do you do at Mardi Gras? You go to parades," he says. "And some of those visitors were from places like Italy, France, and Asia," places in which the virus had already spread.

Mardi Gras is perfectly tailored for a coronavirus outbreak: lots of shoulder-to-shoulder pushing, sharing of drinks, people coming in from all different places. The list only goes on.

"There's a lot of close personal contact. So that's the perfect opportunity for the spread of viruses," Oberhelman explains.

Dr. Ronald Blanton, the chair of the Tropical Medicine Department of Tulane's School of Public Health, says studies on COVID-19 will continue for years and years to come. Despite these statistics and 'so-called facts' shifting constantly, for New Orleans, the source of the outbreak seems to point to Mardi Gras.

"I have to admit, the concentration, and it's a really strong concentration here in New Orleans, may suggest that," Blanton explains.

As for now, experts are recommending techniques to control and limit personal interaction. Classes at Tulane University have gone completely digital, and students are encouraged to stay home. Faculty are contacting one another through virtual meetings, via Zoom.

"Web conferencing in order to do things so people are not in direct contact with one another, which is the opposite purpose of Mardi Gras," Blanton explains.

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