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Jazz Festival postponed as virus reaches Louisiana capital

March 18, 2020 GMT
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Among other announcements, Gov. John Bel Edwards banned gatherings of 50 or more in another dramatic step to limit the spread of the Coronavirus during a news conference at GOHSEP Monday March 16, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. He also announced the legislative session is suspended until March 31st. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP, Pool)
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Among other announcements, Gov. John Bel Edwards banned gatherings of 50 or more in another dramatic step to limit the spread of the Coronavirus during a news conference at GOHSEP Monday March 16, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. He also announced the legislative session is suspended until March 31st. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP, Pool)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people for eight days of music, food and culture, has been postponed over coronavirus concerns, officials announced Tuesday.

The announcement about one of the city’s premier events is the latest in a wave of canceled or postponed concerts, classes, games and other large-scale events across the country as officials try to contain COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

This year’s Jazz Fest was expected to feature such international artists as Lizzo, The Who and the Foo Fighters as well as hundreds of musicians from across Louisiana. The annual event started in 1970 and continues to be the anchor of the spring festival season in the city’s tourism-dependent economy.

The festival attracts about 400,000 people every year, according to its website. The music ranges from Cajun zydeco bands to gospel choirs to brass band jazz and takes place on numerous stages across the fairgrounds and race track where the festival is held.

The announcement comes as Louisiana reported its fourth death from the coronavirus Tuesday, with increased testing showed the virus had reached the state’s capital city and the number of reported cases statewide nearing 200.

The latest victim, according to the state health department, was an 80-year-old man who lived at a New Orleans retirement home where at least a dozen people have tested positive for the virus that has proven more lethal for older people than other age groups. Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier said an 84-year-old resident of the retirement home in New Orleans became the third victim. Two other New Orleans residents also have died.

Lambeth House was awaiting results on more than a dozen other tests, spokesman Greg Beuerman told The Associated Press. Beuerman said the home requested and received the go-ahead from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin on-site testing last week after the first resident who showed symptoms tested positive. He said Lambeth House visitation was restricted.

“They are free to walk the property. I was just out in the parking lot; there was a gentleman riding his bicycle, there was a woman walking her dog,” Beuerman said. “They’re free to be out, but they are not empowered or enabled to congregate or spend time together outside of their individual apartment units.”

Public health officials stress that the virus is spreading much faster in New Orleans than in other U.S. cities.

The governor has ordered K-12 public schools, bars, gyms, casinos and movie theaters to close and has limited restaurants to delivery and takeout until at least April 13. Public gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. All nonessential dental procedures are prohibited. In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a proclamation banning all public and private gatherings. Louisiana lawmakers have temporarily adjourned their ongoing legislative session.

And the state’s presidential primary slated for April 4 has been pushed back to June, joining Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky and Georgia in postponing primary elections.

The number of positive tests for the virus in Louisiana reached 196 by Tuesday, according to the state health department’s latest figures.

Most of those confirmed to have the virus are in New Orleans. But there are also cases in the northwest corner of the state. Baton Rouge joined the list Tuesday, when Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome announced a person in her parish tested positive.

“It is vital that residents adhere to practicing social distancing and self-isolation if you have symptoms,” Broome said in a statement.

More cases were expected, but testing capacity remained scarce. A drive-thru testing center set up in Baton Rouge opened Monday, but ran out of testing kits Tuesday after nearly 400 referred patients were tested during the two-day period, Broome said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Edwards’ office said he’s requested the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide disaster loans for Orleans and Jefferson parishes — and plans to ask for such aid for all 64 parishes.

The Democratic governor emphasized his restrictions are aimed at slowing the spread of the virus to avoid strain on the health care system.

But one GOP congressman was highly critical of Edwards’ actions.

“These people that own these businesses, they can make up their own mind. They’re not stupid,” U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins said in a Facebook video.

Louisiana law enforcement agencies said they intend to enforce Edwards’ limitations on events and businesses, releasing a joint statement Tuesday that said violators could see licenses revoked or face citations.

Edwards’ actions are mirroring decisions by governors in other states, which have taken drastic measures upon the urging of public health officials to try and contain the virus’ spread.

Though the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its lawmaking session until March 31, its staff are being required to continue with their usual work schedule — in person at the state Capitol building — unless they are sick, have symptoms of the virus or have come into contact with someone exposed to the virus. That requirements comes though health officials and Edwards are urging people to work from home if possible.

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Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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