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New Orleans Ends Mask Mandate

Phoebe Jones/WWNO
Mayor LaToya Cantrell speaks at a COVID-19 memorial event. Jan. 19, 2021.

This story was updated at 5:03 p.m. Friday, May 14.

New Orleans has ended the city’s COVID-19 mask mandate for fully vaccinated residents.

Mayor Latoya Cantrell made the announcement Friday. The new rules take effect at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, one year to the day since the city began enforcing mask-wearing in public.

“Now is the time to get vaccinated,” Cantrell said.

A trumpeter belted out a tune before the mayor took the podium with an air of victory. She said the city decided to end the mandate in line with the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued on Thursday. Full vaccination is considered to begin two weeks after a second shot of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, or after the single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“The majority of our residents, the majority have taken that shot, the majority have done the right thing to protect themselves and protect others,” Cantrell said. “Only because of that we’re in a position where we can continue to follow the science, continue to follow the CDC guidelines.”

There are caveats: Masks will still be required inside city government buildings, K-12 schools, healthcare facilities, and on public transportation. But there is no enforcement, and the mayor admitted that those who haven’t been vaccinated are being required to wear masks purely on an honor system.

“Or they’ll get sick,” she said. “I believe this will spur individuals who have yet to be vaccinated to be vaccinated.”

New Orleans will also end its much-ridiculed ban on dancing for people who are fully vaccinated. “We are no longer the town from footloose,” quipped Dr. Jennifer Avegnor, the director of the city’s health department.

But other restrictions, including size limits to gatherings, remain.

New Orleans leads the state in vaccination rates. Avegno said over 40 percent of all residents, and over 50 percent of those eligible have been fully vaccinated. That includes 70 percent of seniors.

Whether people might still choose to wear a mask in public will be a personal decision, she said, adding that she plans to continue wearing a mask in large groups where she doesn’t know others’ vaccination status. Avegno’s two children were vaccinated this week, after the state opened up the Pfizer vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds. Cantrell said her daughter will be vaccinated on Wednesday.

The mayor added that she’s requiring people to be vaccinated before meeting with them in person. “I’m no longer taking appointments and seeing people in my office and giving them time if they haven’t been vaccinated,” she said. “It is a priority. It is something we must do.”

She said the city will continue to hold vaccination events, but she said “there is no excuse not to have it.”

Despite the mandate’s removal, Avengo warned that “Covid is not over, not by a long shot.”

At least two variants are present and circulating in the state, and Avegno noted the rest of Louisiana’s lower vaccination rates.

“We’re not going to be fully protected until all areas and all groups in our community have higher levels of vaccination than we’re seeing now,” Avegno said.

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