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When the sun rose over Louisiana on Monday morning, destruction from Hurricane Ida was apparent.

What goes on behind shuttered doors and windows is also worrying doctors, as many residents are crammed into shelters or stuck in their homes without immediate access to testing or other medical care. Without a doubt, experts say, Covid-19 is spreading.

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Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana as the state battled its biggest wave of Covid-19 to date. The high levels of circulating coronavirus, coupled with the state’s low vaccination rates and the forced proximity that occurs during a storm, could pave the way for an explosion in cases.

“We have so much Covid in the Southeastern United States,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “The pandemic is likely to get worse. ”

Dr Hugh Cassiere, Director of Critical Care Services at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital in Long Island, New York, said, “During a storm you are not going to keep your windows and doors open, then you are going to have an environment where you are not only inside, but where you have stagnant air. It’s the perfect storm for transmitting any respiratory tract infection, not to mention the delta variant of Covid-19. “

The potential for infection worries even the vaccinated.

Dr Joshua Denson, pulmonologist and intensive care physician at Tulane University Medical Center in New Orleans, sent his vaccinated family to evacuate during the storm – which brought them closer to loved ones, as well as other families.

“Everyone takes more risks, including my own family,” Denson said. “Delta doesn’t really care. It continues to spread. “

Governor John Bel Edwards acknowledged the challenges of responding to a hurricane during a pandemic.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” Edwards said Monday on MSNBC. The state intends to bring evacuees into hotel rooms as quickly as possible in order to reduce interactions that could promote the spread of Covid-19. State officials are also asking shelters to implement other mitigation measures, including masking and rapid testing.

Louisiana took a similar approach in August 2020, when another major hurricane hit the coast during the pandemic: Laura.

Laura has not resulted in an increase in the number of cases, but doctors are concerned that the combination of the hypertransmissible nature of the delta variant and the high number of daily cases reported by Louisiana before Ida could cause an increase in cases.

“I think it’s going to be worse just because the number of cases is higher,” Denson said.

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The impact on the pandemic goes beyond those who have been forced to evacuate, experts say.

Hundreds of thousands of people are without electricity. Electricity may not be restored to the entire parish of Orleans and New Orleans for several weeks.

This means no respite in the form of air conditioning from the humid heat of the South.

“Right now the weather is 90 degrees, and it’s 100 degrees,” Denson said. “If you get someone with a [fever], they will get dehydrated faster and end up with more complications.

Drinking water could also be scarce for the foreseeable future, adding to the danger of dehydration, he said.

Additionally, residents of a stranded city after a natural disaster are unlikely to venture out for Covid testing.

But experts urged residents to continue with mitigation measures, including wearing masks and physical distancing where possible.

“When you have a new crisis in front of you, you forget about the old crisis,” McDeavitt said.

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