Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow dies from COVID-19

Luke Letlow, R-Start, chief of staff to exiting U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, speaks after signing up to run for Louisiana's 5th Congressional District, on July 22, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)
Luke Letlow, R-Start, chief of staff to exiting U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, speaks after signing up to run for Louisiana's 5th Congressional District, on July 22, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. – The death of a newly elected U.S. representative from Louisiana of complications related to COVID-19 stunned the state's political circles Wednesday and became the latest brutal reminder of how dangerous the coronavirus can be.

Luke Letlow, who was only 41 and had no known underlying health conditions, died Tuesday night at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport — days before he was scheduled to be sworn into office, according to his spokesman Andrew Bautsch. Bautsch asked for privacy for Letlow's family “during this difficult and unexpected time.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a doctor who tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this year and has since recovered, seemed almost at a loss for words in a Twitter video he posted Tuesday night about Letlow's death, stopping at one point before saying: “It just, just, just, just brings home COVID can kill. For most folks it doesn’t, but it truly can. So, as you remember Luke, his widow, his children in your prayers, remember as well to be careful with COVID.”

Only weeks after Letlow was elected, state officials Wednesday began discussing logistics for a special election to fill the seat again.

Louisiana's eight-member congressional delegation called Letlow's death devastating. As condolences poured in, many officials expressed shock and focused on the pandemic's deadly toll.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened her weekly news conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill by extending “great sympathy” to the congressman-elect’s family and pushing for greater efforts to end the pandemic. The Democratic leader said Letlow's COVID-related death could “happen to anyone — and it has happened to nearly 350,000 Americans.”

“Many of those deaths could have been avoided," she said. Pelosi added: “We must make sure that we are scientific and determined to crush the virus."

Louisiana state House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Republican, issued a statement mourning Letlow's death and saying: “This pandemic is real and it’s taken too many of our loved ones. Too many husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons."