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New Orleans Will Start Drive-Through Testing For Coronavirus

Livestream: WWL-TV
Mayor LaToya Cantell speaks at a press conference March 15, 2020.

New Orleans is one of four cities to participate in a new federal pilot program for drive-through testing for COVID-19, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Sunday.

The program will be up and running by mid-week and will target health care workers, the elderly and those most at-risk.

City officials also offered updates on city services and restrictions Sunday afternoon as the greater New Orleans area grapples with the spread of the virus. Two people have died from COVID-19, both in Orleans Parish, and 91 have tested positive in Louisiana as of 4:45 p.m.

Director of the New Orleans Department of Health Jennifer Avegno called the numbers concerning.

“It appears the rate of infection here in New Orleans is increasing much faster than in other cities in the U.S.,” she said.

Libraries are now closed. Schools remain closed. New Orleans Recreation Development Commission facilities will be closed. The Regional Transit Authority will switch to a weekend schedule.

Cox is providing free internet hotspots. Entergy will not be cutting off power to those who are behind on bills, according to councilwoman Helena Moreno.

City Hall will continue to operate and staff temperatures will be monitored. Some staff will work remotely. Municipal and traffic courts are closed.

Avegno stressed the importance of social distancing to prevent the rapid spread of the virus.

“Even if you do not become severely ill, and as we know, most people in this epidemic do not, you can still pass it along to your loved ones who may be in this high-risk group,” she said. "The decisions you make today will save lives, or not.”

Cantrell scolded partiers who gathered on Magazine Street last night to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and thanked Mardi Gras Indians for canceling Super Sunday celebrations. Officials urged New Orleanians to stay home and keep a distance of at least six feet when in public, in order to slow the spread of the virus.

Officials also said they are not worried about the number of beds in local hospitals, but that staffing is short. They are working with a statewide coalition to mobilize qualified emergency health care workers in case of emergency.

Cantrell says there are also plans to limit the number of patrons allowed in restaurants and that details will be made clear in the coming days. She says officials are also discussing instituting curfews.

Councilman Jason Williams said he hasn’t hugged his mother in days and urged citizens to protect loved ones by limiting social interactions.

“I’m saying to the city of New Orleans, there is turbulence ahead — unfortunately, we’re probably going to lose more people to COVID 19,” he said.

The city’s NOLA READY program is offering updates on the spread of the virus. To sign up, text COVID NOLA to 888-777.

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Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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