Lawmakers and senior staffers are mourning the loss of Representative-Elect Luke Letlow, who died of complications from COVID-19 on Tuesday. The 41-year-old Louisiana Republican was slated to succeed retiring Representative Ralph Abraham, whom he previously served as chief of staff.
The rising Republican star was passionate about having the opportunity to represent constituents in rural areas whose voices he felt were often not heard. Letlow toed the line and refused to acknowledge Joe Biden‘s victory, but unlike some of his counterparts, he followed CDC guidelines and wore a mask. According to his campaign manager and friend, Scott Franklin, Letlow took precautions on the campaign trail during the pandemic and states, “I know people are sifting through social media to find photos of him not wearing a mask, but I am telling you, he made an effort to do the best he could while still reaching the people,”
Letlow had announced his diagnosis on his Facebook page on December 18, writing that he was “at home resting, following all CDC guidelines, quarantine protocols, and the recommendations of my doctors.” Days later, Letlow posted that he was undergoing treatment at St. Francis Hospital in Monroe before a statement from his office on December 23 said he had been transferred to Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport Academic Medical Center. Dr. G.E. Ghali, the chancellor of LSU Health Shreveport, said in a statement at the time that Letlow was in “stable condition in the Intensive Care Unit” and was receiving the drug Remdesivir and steroids as part of his treatment.
Letlow’s death was unusual for his relative youth among Louisiana’s COVID victims: Less than 5% of those to die of the virus in the state have been younger than 50. The Representative-Elect is also the first person in Congress to die of the virus. News of Letlow’s death was met with an immediate outpouring of support for his family. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered her condolences during a press conference on Wednesday while adding that it could “happen to anyone — and it has happened to nearly 350,000 Americans”.
Under Louisiana state law, a special election will now take place to elect someone to represent the state’s 5th Congressional District, which Letlow had carried in a runoff election earlier this month with 62% of the vote.