GOP Congressman-elect Luke Letlow dies from COVID-19

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The 41-year-old father of two died just days before he was set to be sworn into office.

Luke Letlow, Louisiana's incoming Republican member of the U.S. House, has died from complications related to COVID-19 only days before he would have been sworn into office. He was 41.

The congressman-elect died at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport on Tuesday, according to his spokesman Andrew Bautsch.

"The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time," Bautsch said in a statement.

Louisiana's eight-member congressional delegation called Letlow's death devastating.

"Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him," the delegation said in a written statement. "He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our nation."

U.S. House leaders also offered their condolences.

"May it be a comfort to Luke's wife Julia and their children Jeremiah and Jacqueline that so many mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said: "Our hearts break tonight as we process the news of Congressman-elect Luke Letlow's passing."

Gov. John Bel Edwards urged people to pray for Letlow's family.

"COVID-19 has taken Congressman-elect Letlow from us far too soon," the Democratic governor said in a statement. "I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a U.S. representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family."

The governor intends to call a March special election to fill the congressional seat, according to his spokeswoman, Christina Stephens.

Letlow was admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus. He was later transferred to the Shreveport facility and placed in intensive care.

Dr. G.E. Ghali, of LSU Health Shreveport, told The Advocate that Letlow didn't have any underlying health conditions that would have placed him at greater risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

Letlow, from the small town of Start in Richland Parish, was elected in a December runoff election for the sprawling 5th District U.S. House seat representing central and northeastern regions of the state, including the cities of Monroe and Alexandria. He would have been sworn in next week.

Letlow was going to fill the seat being vacated by his boss, Republican Ralph Abraham. He had been Abraham's chief of staff and ran with Abraham's backing for the job.

"There are no words for this loss," Abraham posted on Facebook. "There was no one like Luke Letlow, and there was no one who loved this state and its people more. Luke was a part of our family, and we are so incredibly proud of the man he was."

Before working for Abraham, Letlow had worked for former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration.

Letlow is one of more than 7,000 people in Louisiana who have died from COVID-19 since March, according to data from the state health department.

Other Louisiana officials who have contracted the virus since the pandemic began include U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder, U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.

Cassidy, a Republican and doctor who tested positive for the virus earlier this year and has since recovered, posted in a Twitter video: "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."

Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and two children.