Health officials warn of germs during Mardi Gras



This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

Alexandria Whitten

As Mardi Gras approaches, close to a million people from around the world are preparing to travel to New Orleans to fill the streets for parades and celebrations. But as music plays and hands reach for throws from floats, health officials warn to take extra health precautions to avoid the rapidly spreading coronavirus along with the already present flu.

After the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China in late 2019, it has since spread to 28 countries around the world. As of Feb. 5, there have been 11 confirmed cases in five U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Currently, there are no cases in Louisiana or anyone that has met criteria to be under investigation by health officials, according to Dr. Alexander Billioux, assistant secretary of health for the Office of Public Health at Louisiana Department of Health, on Jan. 31.

According to the CDC website, coronavirus spreads person-to-person by close contact and respiratory droplets from a cough or a sneeze, similar to how influenza spread.

Hayley Hall, a student at Louisiana State University, plans to travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and has a few concerns about the possibility of germs spreading during the celebration.

“The virus is definitely becoming scarier and scarier as more information comes out,” said Hall, “It’s always going to be in the back of my mind that there is just a greater chance of it spreading based on the number of people who travel.”

Louisiana health officials continue to monitor the situation to keep the state safe from the coronavirus.

“What we are currently doing is working very close with federal authorities on what is a very rapidly developing story,” said Billioux.

Louisiana Department of Health has also reached out to health providers across the state to share information with them. They also encourage providers to report any cases of people with upper or lower respiratory tract infections, or symptoms of pneumonia, that have recently traveled to China or have been in close contact with someone who returned from China lately.

If people who meet these criteria show up in Louisiana, health officials would begin a process to diagnose and isolate a patient while identifying others the patient has close contact with.

“That’s our way of making sure we are as early as possible identifying anybody who is at risk of becoming ill,” said Billioux.

Internationally, officials are making travel changes to monitor coronavirus and try to prevent further spreading.

“I think there is a pretty concerted international effort right now especially with people who are traveling, doing as much screening as possible at points of entry in the United States,” Billioux said.

Erin Burns, director of communications at New Orleans Aviation Board says there are not any additional health screenings happening at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, but they continue to coordinate with the CDC, Louisiana Health Department and New Orleans Health Department.

“We take direction from them for the necessary response,” said Burns, “At this point we are just monitoring.”

Billioux believes visitors to New Orleans and residents should be more worried about the flu rather than the coronavirus during Carnival and encourages taking health precautions while celebrating.

“The good news is, you keep yourself safe from both in the same way,” Billioux said.

Billioux encourages Mardi Gras goers to practice good hygiene, wash hands regularly and to avoid contact with sick people.

Hall plans to take extra vitamins during her visit to New Orleans and use hand sanitizer while on the parade route and in high trafficked areas.

“I will try and keep germs to a minimum for me,” said Hall.

“I think Mardi Gras in general comes at an interesting time for us every year anyway. We are still in flu season and so there are a lot of big concerns both historically, and this year with this particularly challenging flu season. We want people to take general precautions anyway for respiratory virus. And for flu specifically, get vaccinated,” said Billioux.

Billoux also encourages people who are sick during Carnival to stay home and away from partying to keep others safe.

“People get close during Mardi Gras so we want to make sure that people are using good precautions,” Billioux said.