The mayor of New Orleans on Thursday blamed the federal government and President Donald Trump for her decision not to cancel this year’s Mardi Gras, which health experts believe might have helped spread coronavirus in the Big Easy.
“The federal government did not issue any red flags, and therefore we moved forward,” LaToya Cantrell said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“It was backed up with the response of our national leader,” she added, referring to Trump.
“When it’s not taken seriously at the federal level it’s very difficult to transcend down to the local level to make these decisions.”
A growing body of health experts say that Mardi Gras, which concluded at the end of last month, may be a factor in the high number of coronavirus cases in New Orleans. As of Friday morning, 997 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the city.
“I think it all boils down to Mardi Gras,” Dr. F. Brobson Lutz Jr., a former health director of New Orleans, told The New York Times. “The greatest free party in the world was a perfect incubator at the perfect time.”
“I’m not sure why they held that,” Dr. Peter Hotez, an expert on infectious disease at the Baylor College of Medicine, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. He added that a pick-up in cases in Houston, where he is based, could be attributed to Mardis Gras, which has an estimated 1.4 million visitors each year.
This year’s celebration ended Feb. 25. At the time, only a handful of cases had been reported in the U.S., and none in Louisiana. Cases began popping up in the area a week or two after Mardis Gras ended.
Cantrell maintained that if the federal government had instructed her to cancel Mardis Gras she would have done so.
“If we were given clear direction we would not have had Mardi Gras and I would’ve been the leader to cancel it.
“No red flags were given so absolutely we moved forward.”
None. If we were given clear direction we would not have had Mardi Gras and I would’ve been the leader to cancel it. https://t.co/PUFj2F1NyO
— Mayor LaToya Cantrell (@mayorcantrell) March 26, 2020
Trump had expressed confidence in the weeks before Mardis Gras that coronavirus would be contained in the United States.
“We have it very well under control,” Trump said at a campaign rally on Jan. 30. The next day he shut down travel from China, where coronavirus first appeared in November.
Other federal officials were sounding the alarm in the weeks before the celebration.
Blitzer, the CNN host, noted to Cantrell that Dr. Nancy Messonier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on Feb. 12 that coronavirus was likely to “gain a foothold in the U.S.”
“The goal of the measures we have taken to date are to slow the introduction and impact of this disease in the United States but at some point, we are likely to see community spread in the U.S.”
“This will require the effort of all levels of Government, the public health system and our communities as we face these challenges together.”
Cantrell noted that she cancelled New Orleans’ Saint Patricks Day celebration.
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