Two years ago: First case of COVID-19 in La. discovered in New Orleans

Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 4:50 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Two years ago, on March 9, 2020, doctors in New Orleans confirmed the first case of COVID-19. It was also the first known case in the state.

Doctors and frontline workers say since then, there has been nothing but significant progress in the fight against the pandemic.

“We were getting overwhelmed by the number of patients coming in,” said Dr. Julio Figueroa, chief of infectious diseases at LSU Health. “Then there were more cases and then it just sort of became a tsunami. It was literally a tsunami.”

“I can say for myself that I had no idea how incredibly disruptive to society a pandemic like this would be,” he said.

Figueroa said his department studied pandemic preparation before 2020, but nothing could have prepared him, or anyone else, for what was about to happen.

“It really disrupted our way of life. I mean, we had just had Mardi Gras at that time and you know basically it just wiped out everything,” he said.

Reflecting on the last two years, he calls the discoveries and advancements in science remarkable.

“We came from recognition of a virus to a vaccine within a year. That’s unbelievable,” said Figueroa.

From learning what was going on, to understanding how to take care of patients, how to prevent death, and how to handle ventilation, he said health care is in a much better place now than it was before because of it.

“It’s night and day,” said Figueroa. “First of all, we don’t have that many cases today and we are much more comfortable in our protocols in terms of how to handle these patients... and so it’s not the guessing game that it was very early on.”

After the first COVID case two years ago, it would be one month later, in April 2020, that nearly 2,000 people were hospitalized with severe infection from the virus, and more than 500 patients on ventilators.

Today, it’s a day of reflection in the healthcare world.

Director for the Louisiana Department of Health Dr. Joseph Kanter said in a tweet that he remembers that first day well. He called that time being some of the most challenging weeks of his professional career.

And although numbers are low today, New Orleans Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno said they’re still keeping an eye on the case count.

“We’re about a week out from Mardi Gras day... so far, things look pretty good,” she said. “We’re very hopeful that if the numbers stay stable, if we remain in the CDC’s low category of community levels of the virus. Then by March 21, we hope to lift the vaccine requirements.”

Moving forward, infectious disease experts say now it’s all about what we do with the information we’ve learned.

“It’s not the death sentence that it was two years ago,” said Dr. Figueroa. “I’m hopeful, although every time I have made a prediction about this virus, other people have said the same thing, you get surprised.”

Currently, New Orleans is averaging about 33 new COVID-19 cases a day with a positivity rate of 1.6%. The number of hospitalized patients statewide has plummeted since the beginning of this year, steadily declining from over 2,200 in mid-January to just over 266 on Wednesday.

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