Almost 15 years separate the regional disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the global disaster of COVID-19. While Katrina shone a spotlight on New Orleans that caused locals as well as distant onlookers to re-assess their understanding of the place, COVID-19 underlines the ways in which New Orleans falls off the map of national consciousness in crises that affect the country, and world, as a whole.
By the top of last week, New Orleans had the second-highest rate of cases per capita in the country, after Seattle, though the numbers continue to fluctuate nationwide. Its economic vulnerability ranks third among the 100 largest metro areas in the United States, after Las Vegas and Orlando. Yet, for whatever reason, it doesn’t rank anywhere near those numbers in national news coverage of the crisis.
In a National Public Radio interview on March 24, Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana said, “If you go in the South, the disease doesn’t like hot weather… It may not become as rampant.” Interviewer Noel King pushed back, saying there’s no evidence that the virus “doesn’t like hot weather.” But even she didn’t point out that it’s already clearly “rampant” in New Orleans.
New Orleanians react in different ways to this routine marginalization in the broader national context. The more provincial New Orleanians lash out at local government and culture, with well-worn rhetoric about how the “backward” city lacks unquestioned American virtues like individual initiative, work ethic, and allegedly more efficient and less corrupt government. These are the reasons, in the Americanist New Orleans imagination, that New Orleans doesn’t get the national attention gracing Atlanta, Austin, etc.
Thus a citizen complained in a March 20 letter to the Times-Picayune that Mayor LaToya Cantrell should have closed bars and restaurants a couple of days earlier than she did, claiming “Other states had already closed public venues except for grocery stores and pharmacies.” The writer worries that people in other places will be infected because of New Orleans’ negligence.
"By last week, New Orleans was the second-most infected city per capita in the country, after Seattle. Its economic vulnerability ranks third among the 100 largest metro areas in the United States, after Las Vegas and Orlando. Yet, for whatever reason, it doesn’t rank anywhere near those numbers...