The mayor of New Orleans said Thursday that she would have canceled the city's famous Mardi Gras celebrations last month if the federal government had been clearer about the dangers posed by coronavirus. Orleans Parish is now one of America's hardest-hit regions during the pandemic — with the nation's highest per capita death rate from the virus.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell, a Democrat, said that "no red flags were given" by federal agencies before its Mardi Gras celebrations in late February — just weeks before the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic.
"Given data, allowing science to lead us, it does matter," Cantrell told CNN. "Leaders on the ground, we rely on the facts to make decisions for the people that we serve. Given no red flags, we moved forward. In hindsight, if we were given clear direction, we would not have had Mardi Gras, and I would have been the leader to cancel it."
Cantrell also singled out President Trump when asked if the federal government gave no indication the Mardi Gras celebrations should be canceled.
"That's absolutely correct, and it was backed up by the response of our national leader," she said.
New Orleans confirmed its first coronavirus case about two weeks after the end of Mardi Gras. Cantrell went on to cancel some of the city's major events for March, including its St. Patrick's Day parade.
"When it's not taken seriously on the federal level, it's very difficult to transcend down to the local level in making these decisions," she said on CNN. "But when the experts told me that social gatherings would be an issue, I moved forward with canceling them."
Orleans Parish now has the highest per capita coronavirus death rate in the nation by far, according to an analysis by the Times-Picayune/The Advocate. It has seen 11.76 deaths for every 100,000 residents — more than twice the rate of any borough in New York City, which is the nation's epicenter for coronavirus cases.
Louisiana has confirmed 2,305 coronavirus cases and 83 deaths. Forty-six of those deaths were in Orleans Parish.