(Reuters) - New Orleans is on track to become the next coronavirus epicenter in the United States, dimming hopes that less densely populated and warmer-climate cities would escape the worst of the pandemic, and that summer months could see it wane.
The plight of New Orleans - with the world’s highest growth rate in coronavirus cases - also raises fears that the city may become a powerful catalyst in spreading the virus across the south of the country. Authorities have warned the number of cases in New Orleans could overwhelm its hospitals by April 4.
New Orleans is the biggest city in Louisiana, the state with the third-highest caseload of coronavirus in the United States on a per capita basis after the major epicenters of New York and Washington.
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The growth rate in Louisiana tops all others, according to a University of Louisiana at Lafayette analysis of global data, with the number of cases rising by 30% in the 24 hours before noon on Wednesday. On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a major federal disaster declaration for the state, freeing federal funds and resources.
Some 70% of Louisiana’s 1,795 confirmed cases to date are in the New Orleans metro area.