The research, conducted in collaboration with over a dozen researchers from the Scripps Research Institute, Tulane University, LSU Health Shreveport, and several other institutions, further revealed that the coronavirus likely arrived in New Orleans about two weeks before Fat Tuesday via an individual traveling from Texas.
“Our study provides an understanding of how superspreading during large-scale events played a key role during the early outbreak in the U.S. and can greatly accelerate COVID-19 epidemics on a local and regional scale,” the study’s authors wrote.
Nearly eight hundred people likely contracted the disease by the time the massive crowds died down on Ash Wednesday, and according to the authors, those new infections went on to seed thousands of more cases during the state’s first lethal wave over the following months.
“The entire outbreak in Louisiana is almost certainly fueled by what happened on Mardi Gras,” Mark Zeller, the study’s co-author and a researcher at Scripps, told Nola.com.
“It’s basically the snowball. Once it’s going, it’s just going. It’s really hard to stop.”
The authors noted that the timing of the annual festival couldn’t have been worse, as the festivities were ramping up just before shutdowns were being recommended by health and government officials. An estimated one million people from all across the United States took part in the celebrations.
“In March, I think New Orleans had the sharpest increase of patients anywhere in the world,” Zeller said.
“It’s just very unfortunate timing. If Mardi Gras would have been two, three weeks earlier, maybe it wouldn’t have resulted in this many cases.”
Just five months after Mardi Gras, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota turned into another significant super-spreader event, which might have caused more than two hundred sixty thousand new coronavirus cases, according to a sixty-three-page study conducted by researchers from the Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies at San Diego State University.
The ten-day motorcycle rally attracted more than four hundred fifty thousand people, and prolonged interactions between individuals, along with “minimal mask-wearing and social distancing by attendees,” raised concerns that Sturgis would lead to the spread of the contagion, the study noted.
Those findings, combined with a per-case cost estimate from other economists, pointed to the conclusion that the rally may have generated a public-health cost of about $12.2 billion. That amount is based on another finding that an average of $46,000 is spent on each patient who tests positive for the virus.
“This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend,” the study said.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.