After New Orleans last month emerged as the United States’ new southern epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic, threatening other states across the region, a review in Bloomberg Law of how the South as already “the sickest part of America” could be hit hardest before the crisis eventually wanes paints a very bleak picture.
Home to the highest rates of obesity, hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes, combined with expansive rural and impoverished areas that have poor health care access, the South is especially vulnerable for a “virus that is particularly lethal for people with underlying health conditions,” according to the report.
“Covid-19 is going to be a disaster in the Southeast,” Aaron Milstone, a Tennessee pulmonologist, told Bloomberg Law. “We’ll see higher morbidity, which is getting sick from the virus, and higher mortality, which is dying from the virus.”
Further, the report reads, “Four of the five states with the highest diabetes rates are in the South. And eight didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving thousands of families without access to routine care, even as financially troubled rural hospitals wither away.”
These are factors that might help explain the recent surprise explosion of cases in Louisiana, in addition of course to the fact that Mardis Gras – which ran in total from January 6 to Fat Tuesday on February 25 – witnessed one million plus tourists and revelers from outside states and countries descend on the Big Easy. Concerning Louisiana, Bloomberg Law observes further:
That prediction is already playing out in Louisiana, which saw Covid-19 infections and deaths soar in New Orleans after weeks of Carnival celebrations ended last month. Of the 239 Covid-19 fatalities there, 40% had diabetes, 25% were obese and 21% had heart problems, according to state figures.
The Bayou State saw another jump in coronavirus numbers Monday: more than 1,800 cases in a single day, to a total of 16,284 confirmed cases. Over 4,000 of these are in New Orleans.
“We, in general, have a sicker population, and we are concerned that our outcomes in the Covid-19 pandemic are going to be worse because of that,” Joseph Kanter, an assistant state health officer, described.
Describing further of what the report dubs “the sickest part of the country,” it profiles the greater general vulnerability further:
Those conditions run rampant in the South, according to the nonprofit United Health Foundation. For example, Mississippians are 85% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than Minnesotans, and 41.9% of Arkansans have high blood pressure, compared with 24.5% in Utah, according to the organization’s America’s Health Rankings report. The region also has a large African-American population, which is disproportionately prone to the underlying conditions.
The authors conclude the southern governors should have acted much faster to declare blanket ‘stay at home’ emergency orders state-wide, which some like Florida were very slow to do, and still with some hold-outs.