The new Congress will convene on Jan. 3, but will do so without one of its freshman members, Louisiana’s Luke Letlow, who died Tuesday night at a Shreveport hospital due to complications stemming from COVID-19. Letlow became the newest member of the state’s congressional delegation on Dec. 5 when he handily won a runoff against a fellow Republican to capture Louisiana’s sprawling, rural 5th Congressional District that is also the nation’s second poorest district. Two weeks later, Letlow tested positive for the coronavirus and began isolating at home; he was then admitted to the hospital on Dec. 19. Four days later, Letlow was transferred to the intensive care unit at Ochsner LSU Health in Shreveport.
While in the ICU, Letlow received the antiviral drug remdesivir and steroids. Dr. G.E. Ghali of LSU Health Shreveport said that Letlow did not have any health problems that would have made him more vulnerable to the coronavirus. “He had no underlying conditions,” Ghali said. “It was just COVID.” On Tuesday, Ghali said Letlow suffered a cardiac event and could not be resuscitated.
Letlow’s death makes him the highest-ranking American politician to die from the virus. A number of Louisiana officials have tested positive for COVID-19, including Sen. Bill Cassidy, Attorney General Jeff Landry, and Rep. Mike Johnson. Letlow’s age, 41, and good health are a reminder of the damage the virus can do, even if the vast majority of cases are not fatal. As a candidate, Letlow urged residents in his district to abide by social distancing rules but, like many Americans, had his own lapses. The Washington Post notes “photos on his Twitter page show he had an inconsistent record of wearing masks while campaigning, sometimes covering his face at meet-and-greets but also speaking indoors without a mask on to rooms of mask-free residents.” While campaigning in October, Letlow urged the governor to ease pandemic restrictions, saying, “We’re now at a place if we do not open our economy, we’re in real danger.”
Letlow is survived by his wife and two young children, ages 3 years and 11 months.