NEW ORLEANS — Throngs of revelers may have brought the coronavirus to New Orleans during Mardi Gras celebrations here.

But the city’s poverty rate, lack of healthcare and affordable housing, and high rates of residents with preexisting medical conditions may be driving its explosive growth and could make it the next U.S. epicenter of the outbreak.

The number of known coronavirus cases in Louisiana jumped to 2,305 on Thursday, an increase of 510 cases from Wednesday, and a total of 83 deaths, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. Nearly half of Louisiana’s cases — 997 — came from New Orleans.  

The city also reported Thursday that a 17-year-old teen died after contracting the virus, bringing the city’s coronavirus death tally to 46 — more than half of the state’s total death count. 

In this Thursday, March 19, 2020, file photo, a view of the nearly deserted scene on Bourbon Street, which is normally bustling with tourists and revelers, in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Like many cities around the country, New Orleans is currently under a shelter-in-place order as it grapples with a growing number of coronavirus cases.

New Orleans Homeland Security Director Collin Arnold said hospital capacity in the New Orleans region is dwindling and the city will need additional hospital beds within weeks.

“New Orleans is preparing to mobilize in a way we hope we will never see again in our lifetimes,” Arnold said. “This disaster will define us for generations.”

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