Week in Review, March 13: A Virus Among Us

NEW ORLEANS – In a stunning example of how fast the modern news cycle operates, this week began with coverage of a Gov. Edwards speech to the legislature about the importance of education. Four days later, the top story is that the governor ordered all K-12 schools in the state to close until April 13 to help fight the “community spread” of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which was officially declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday.

What changed? On Monday, Louisiana had just discovered its first case of coronavirus and today the state has at least 33 presumptive positive cases and the number is climbing.

The highly contagious disease, which originated in Wuhan, China late last year has now killed more than 5,000 people worldwide. The number of confirmed infected is nearing 140,000. Like the other 135 countries around the world with confirmed cases of COVID-19, the challenge for the U.S. is to mitigate the spread of the disease and prevent a huge spike in patients that could overwhelm the healthcare system. Infectious disease experts say leaders here didn’t take the problem seriously enough or act quickly enough in the beginning and are now struggling to catch up. The federal government, in particular, has failed to produce an adequate supply of test kits to identify new cases.

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All week, like the week before, the stock market was a roller coaster heading mostly in one direction – although it did gain back some of its losses on Friday. The day before, the market had its worst drop since the infamous “Black Monday” of 1987. Twice this week, virtual “circuit breakers” halted trading because the market fell by more than 7%.

In reaction to this crisis, New Orleans officials and/or event organizers have cancelled or postponed the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, the Women’s College Final Four event, French Quarter Fest and countless other gatherings. Nationally, all the Broadway theaters went dark and the NBA cancelled the rest of its season after a player tested positive. During a live televised address on Wednesday night, the president banned all travel from Europe to the U.S. by non-citizens. On Friday, he spoke again to declare a national state of emergency.

Much of the week’s normal business news was buried by an avalanche of virus updates. Meanwhile, the changes brought on by virus concerns are wreaking havoc on New Orleans’ tourism business, which usually earns about $9 billion each year. The state’s energy industry, meanwhile, is grappling with the huge drop in the price of oil (down to $31 per barrel).

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… One bit of good business news for New Orleans this week: Italian manufacturer Iriapak will be spending $7 million to build a facility in eastern New Orleans.

And another feel-good story: check out these three Tulane students who were frustrated by the city’s lack of glass recycling so they decided to create their own. Now we just need them to tackle the coronavirus …

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