Week in Review, March 27: N.O. in Crisis, Stimulus Bill Passes
NEW ORLEANS – Last Friday, there were nearly 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Louisiana. Ten people had died as a result of complications from the disease. As of this writing, there are more than 2,700 cases and 119 deaths in the state. (Those numbers rose significantly in the hour between writing and editing this copy – and they will be out of date by the end of the workday.)
The per-capita death rate from the virus in New Orleans is by far the highest of any U.S. city but Gov. Edwards and other leaders are warning that the worst is yet to come.
The major concern is that the healthcare infrastructure in New Orleans and Louisiana will be overwhelmed if too many patients need critical care at the same time. A potential shortage of life-saving ventilators is of particular concern. Earlier this week, Edwards asked for and received a federal disaster declaration, which will give the state access to more federal funds to help battle the coronavirus pandemic. The federal government is planning to open field hospitals in the state.
Meanwhile, “stay at home” orders around the country and worldwide continue to disrupt economies. In response to all this, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill and sent it to the president for his signature.
The bill, according to the Associated Press, will ship payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, bolster unemployment benefits, offer loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses large and small and flush billions more to states, local governments and the nation’s all but overwhelmed health care system.
While waiting for the effects of that bill to trickle down, many businesses, organizations and individuals in New Orleans are doing what they can to adapt to the new reality.
Groups like New Orleans & Company, GNO Inc. and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry are becoming information hubs. The New Orleans Business Alliance is administering a fund for laid-off gig workers who rely on the city’s cultural calendar and tourism to make a living. Saints quarterback Drew Brees pledged to contribute $5 million to various groups fighting COVID-19 in the state.
New resources – including d’Livery Nola, Takeout Covid, Bypass Lines and Open4BizLa.com – have emerged to help connect hungry New Orleanians with the restaurants providing food for takeout and delivery.
Meanwhile, the city’s grocers continue to work around challenges to keep their employees and customers safe while finding creative ways to keep stocking hard-to-find essential items like eggs, bread and paper products. Marc Robért of Robért Fresh Market talked to Biz about the process.
Many companies are “pivoting” into new tasks to help the fight against the spread of the disease. The Hilton Garden Inn in the CBD, for example, will become a temporary homeless shelter, for instance, and the Ochsner Health System is using 3D printing technology to fabricate masks for healthcare workers. Ochsner has also opened an in-house lab for COVID-19 testing.
Meanwhile, the stock market had a three-day run of gains this week but the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite were all down about 3 percent at midday Friday. New Orleans financial advisors Ernie Burns and Jason Bezou shared investment strategies for a tumultuous time with Biz earlier this week.
… And finally, a startling contrast: as the United States now leads the world in coronavirus cases, life is beginning to get back to normal in Hubei province, the center of the original outbreak in China.