Louisiana Rep-elect Luke Letlow, 41, died Tuesday after being hospitalized for covid-19. The husband and father of two was scheduled to be sworn into office on Sunday. He is the first representative or representative-elect to die from the deadly pandemic, which has killed over 336,000 Americans.
Letlow announced his covid-19 diagnosis on December 18. He was admitted to St. Francis Medical Center the next day and was transferred to Ochsner LSU Health ICU on December 23 when his condition worsened. He suffered a heart attack following a covid-related operation, but reportedly had no underlying health conditions that increased his chances of developing covid-19 complications.
Letlow’s spokesman offered the following statement to the Monroe News-Star:
The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time. A statement from the family along with funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.
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Letlow, a Republican, served as chief of staff to former Rep. Ralph Abraham before winning a December 5 runoff election for the state’s 5th district against another Republican challenger, Louisiana State Rep. Lance Harris. He campaigned on run-of-the-mill Republican talking points: protecting gun owners, opposing abortion, and refusing to acknowledge President Trump’s election defeat. But following his covid-19 diagnosis and subsequent death, Letlow was heavily scrutinized for failing to wear a protective mask when courting potential voters.
Letlow occassionally tweeted about the importance of following CDC guidelines and social distancing, but Letlow’s Twitter account is also riddled with recent photos of himself, maskless, posing and speaking with prospective constituents at both indoor and outdoor venues.
During a November debate, Letlow was asked to provide his opinion on mask mandates. He emphasized the importance of reopening the economy instead.
“We have to learn how to live in a COVID world,” Letlow said. “Other nations have learned how to do that and they’ve done so safely and we have to continue to do that.”
Nations that have learned to live with covid-19 most successfully have undergone strict mask guidelines, advanced contact tracing, and even rigorous shutdowns. The United States hasn’t followed any of these protocols and given Letlow’s avid support of Trump’s covid-19 response, he did not appear to support such aggressive efforts either.
How Letlow contracted covid-19 is unknown, but this look into his behavior prior to his hospitalization acts as a macabre warning: No one is safe from the virus, not even a seemingly healthy middle-aged man.