New Orleans Needs Support (not blame) During Coronavirus

Bourbon Street, Photo by: Marielle Songy

(This article originally appeared on Medium on March 28, 2020.)

To Whom It May Concern:

It’s currently being reported that New Orleans has had an explosive rate of coronavirus diagnoses and may soon be known as the “epicenter” of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. Many factors are to blame: New Orleans is easily one of the poorest cities in the country- we lack proper healthcare and housing. Our homeless population is huge with people erecting “tent cities” under our expressways. It only makes sense that people who can’t afford to see a doctor regularly are going to be more susceptible to coronavirus.

New Orleans, like many other cities, is facing a critical shortage of ventilators and protective medical equipment. The food banks, on which many depend, are running low and people don’t know where they will get their next meal. 11 assisted living centers, which house some of our most at-risk citizens- the elderly, have reported two or more coronavirus cases.

Yet, you point your fingers and blame us for celebrating Mardi Gras this year even though, at the time, there were no known cases of coronavirus in the city. You blame us for doing what we always do: making merry and showing you (and ourselves) a good time.

Mardi Gras is more than a few parades and getting drunk in the French Quarter. It’s our culture. It’s our heritage. It’s Indians and Muses and dance krewes and marching bands. It’s standing on the corner with our friends (our family) and toasting and smiling and bringing love and joy into each other’s lives. It’s religious and debaucherous and so much more than Bourbon Street. We would have given all of it up, if we knew then what we know now.

How could we?

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell told CNN that Mardi Gras would have been cancelled if President Trump had warned New Orleans government about a possible coronavirus pandemic. Cancelling Mardi Gras was out of her hands, but the country still places blame squarely on her shoulders.

Cases of coronavirus have exploded in New Orleans- the first case of presumptive coronavirus was diagnosed on March 9th- thirteen days after Mardi Gras day. Since that date, diagnoses rates have increased rapidly and the number of Louisiana cases surpassed 3,300, as of March 28th- 137 of those cases resulting in death. Louisiana Governor, John Bel Edwards, has said that the state has the fastest growing number of coronavirus cases in the world. Like many other states, Louisiana is currently under a “stay-at-home” order, non-essential businesses are now closed and all planned public events have been cancelled or postponed.

Yet, it seems like everyone else in the country says that we haven’t done enough and still aren’t doing enough to prevent the spread of this disease.

This isn’t the first time. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit, New Orleans received little to no sympathy from many in the “outside world”, even as the poorest of us drowned in our homes or later died in the streets, awaiting help. Questions of, “Why didn’t they leave?” and “Why would anyone live in a hurricane prone area?” rang clear. Never mind the fact that many citizens were unable to leave due to lack of transportation and money. People died and the rest of you shrugged. An underlying feel of ,“That’s what they deserve.” hung heavy in the air.

Why does the rest of the United States see New Orleans as disposable?

The same demographic of people that died in Hurricane Katrina are now dying of coronavirus- and for the same reason: they’re poor. They simply can’t afford treatment or they’re older and have underlying conditions (many undiagnosed) that make them more susceptible to illness. Now, because of the government shutting everything down in order to prevent further spread of the disease, they’re losing money. Many of them, who were living paycheck to paycheck, are left wondering how they will feed their families, much less pay a light bill. They don’t know when they will work again. They’re scared and many of them are too proud to say so. They’re too proud to ask for help- they remember how they were treated after Katrina.

Here in New Orleans, we have small houses. Often, generations of families live together, causing further spread of the disease. It’s hard to quarantine when you live in a shotgun with 4 or 5 family members. It’s hard to quarantine when the kids are home from school and they need to be looked after.

So many of you have visited us. You’ve cheered your team as they played against the Saints. Maybe you celebrated Mardi Gras or visited that chicken joint you saw on Food Network. You’ve danced in our streets and you’ve eaten our food. You’ve listened to our music and you’ve enjoyed our culture. Even if you’ve never visited our city, I would bet that something you’ve eaten (and loved) or one of your favorite songs was influenced by our wonderful city.

New Orleans was built on hard work and perseverance. It’s a place that’s made up of chefs, waiters, waitresses, bartenders, dancers, singers, musicians, magicians, tour guides, artists, authors, poets, ride-share drivers, t shirt makers, mask makers, Mardi Gras makers and everyone else that makes the city run. These people are the soul of New Orleans; they are what make New Orleans what it is- and they’re hurting. They don’t know when they will be able to work again. They don’t know when they will be able to make New Orleans what it is again. They’re scared. Who can blame them?

Obviously, if we had a crystal ball, we would have done everything in our power to keep our citizens safe. Here in Louisiana, we’re very much a family; we have lost 137 of our people. 137 family members- people who loved our food and danced and laughed and cut up, just like you did when you visited. People who would have smiled as they passed you on the street. People who would have toasted you when they found out it was your first time visiting. More will be hospitalized and more will die. They aren’t numbers- they’re us.

Have mercy on us. Be kind. We’re one of the heartbeats of this country. We make y’all a little less boring and offer culture and fun and love when you need it most. We’ll greet you with a kiss and hug and treat you like one of our own. We’ll love you and all we ask in return is that you love us back.

We’re aching with worry. We’re sad. We’re home and we don’t know what’s going to happen next. Please, just love us back. We’re all in this together.


Marielle Songy is a writer and journalist living in New Orleans. More of her work can be found at

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