Made possible by the generous sponsorship of the 2020 and 2021 Bienville Circle

Epidemics from yellow fever and cholera to the 1918 flu pandemic have tragically impacted New Orleans over the past 300 years. These periods of crisis have had a profound impact on the economic and emotional well-being of the city and region. As the most significant public health crisis in over a century, the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. The city has endured a heartbreaking loss of human life, the interruption of cherished traditions, and deep economic hardship.

As part of its response to this critical episode in our shared story, The Historic New Orleans Collection created From the Front Line: Narratives of the COVID-19 Pandemic in New Orleans. This oral history project started in May 2020 and has gathered audio interviews from nurses, doctors, paramedics, epidemiologists, public officials, morticians, spiritual leaders, business leaders, and artists, with more to come. The interviews, which have been cataloged and archived, form one of the most comprehensive resources on the social history of the pandemic in New Orleans.

Throughout the course of the project, produced audio excerpts from the interviews have been featured regularly on New Orleans NPR affiliate WWNO as part of THNOC’s oral history feature NOLA Life Stories. The project has also been featured on the Oxford University Press blog. In addition, selected interviewees were featured in a series of short videos for exhibition and social media. This work will provide a more textured and nuanced understanding of the pandemic as this crisis passes into the community’s collective memory.

Advisory Group

Nina Compton, Chef/Restaurateur, Bywater American Bistro and Compère Lapin
Dr. Takeisha Davis, CEO, New Orleans East Hospital
Nancy Hampton, Head of Collections Resources, Xavier University of Louisiana
Karissa Haugeberg, Associate Professor of History, Tulane University
Addie Imseis, Chief Administrative Assistant, Jefferson Parish President’s Office
Hon. Bernette Joshua Johnson, Former Chief Justice, Louisiana Supreme Court
Christopher Leach, photojournalist, WGNO TV
Manuel Linares, CEO, Touro Infirmary
Timothy McConnell, Former Superintendent, New Orleans Fire Department
Kelli Saulny, Campaign Manager, Campaign for Equity: New Orleans (CENO)
David Lee Simmons, Deputy Communications Director to Mayor LaToya Cantrell
Melanie Talia, President and CEO, New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation
Doug MacCash, Staff Writer, New Orleans Advocate/

Explore the Interviews

All the interviews are available in their entirety through our online catalog. From the collection's catalog record, simply click on the hyperlinks to the individual interviews. The audio files are at the bottom of the record.



Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department, has been at the center of the COVID-19 crisis from the start. Born and raised in the New Orleans area, she has been the public face of the city’s response to COVID-19 and has been responsible for orchestrating the city’s efforts in establishing safety protocols and testing centers.
6:25 Video recorded November 11, 2020

The first female mayor of the City of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell has faced an unprecedented set of challenges during her first term. The loss of human life during the pandemic was felt acutely in the mayor’s office, according to Cantrell, who said that the casualties motivated the city's response and inspired efforts to help the community emerge from the crisis.
5:14 Video recorded October 8, 2020

Cynthia Lee Sheng had only been Jefferson Parish president for two months before the diagnosis of a parish resident on March 9, 2020, necessitated a crisis response. She discusses the delicate balance of economic realities with public health concerns throughout the pandemic—a challenge that has tested local leaders nationwide.
3:14 Video recorded December 21, 2020

When the pandemic first hit, Josh Wingerter decided to try to stick to his daily routines. So he went to Frenchmen Street, where he had sold his artwork. He found all his old haunts boarded up with plywood. Rather than see the plywood as a grim reminder of the unfolding crisis, he viewed it as a challenge to the artist inside him. Wingerter’s street art on Frenchmen inspired New Orleanians during the pandemic’s darkest hours.
3:21 Video recorded October 27, 2020

COVID-19 patients confronted their mortality in ICU wards, cut off from family and friends. This isolation had a profound impact on the mental health of patients and their loved ones. Dr. Kenneth R. Jones, chief psychologist with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, talks about this impact on patients and families as well the effect of this traumatic period on our community.
3:29 Video recorded October 16, 2020

On March 9, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Louisiana, marking the beginning of the crisis in our region. The patient was at the New Orleans VA Medical Center. Dr. Kyle Emily Widmer, section chief of Infectious Diseases at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, talks about this first case and the ongoing crisis it triggered.
3:53 Video recorded October 16, 2020

COVID-19 took a heartbreaking toll on human life in New Orleans. The death rate and the isolation caused by the pandemic made it difficult to pay proper respect to those who passed away. Local embalmers like Stephanie Simon of Rhodes Funeral Home faced long hours, loneliness, and exhaustion as they confronted a crisis that seemed to have no end.
3:42 Video recorded December 21, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the City of New Orleans faced an unprecedented set of challenges in 2020. Confronting a record-breaking hurricane season in the midst of a global pandemic was uncharted territory. Director Collin Arnold talked about how his department has handled this difficult year.
5:16 Video recorded November 11, 2020

During the pandemic many New Orleanians experienced that terrifying moment when a loved one was loaded in the back of an ambulance and taken away. Paramedics with the New Orleans Medical Services needed to deal with these heartbreaking moments with compassion. Director Dr. Emily Nichols talks about the experience of New Orleans EMS workers.
4:07 Video recorded October 27, 2020