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Mayor’s possible Mardi Gras COVID vaccine rule is 'hugely disruptive,' tourism officials say

Mardi Gras Indians, Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans
Derek Bridges/Copyright: Flickr
Mardi Gras Indians, Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans

As plans for a potential return of Mardi Gras 2022 ramp up, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she is interested in mandating a proof-of-vaccination requirement for passengers arriving in Louis Armstrong International Airport for the last two weeks of Carnival season — an idea that some state tourism officials hope doesn’t materialize.

In an interview with the Times-Picayune, Cantrell said the measure could help avoid another large outbreak like the one that occurred after Carnival in 2020, when almost 50,000 people became infected with COVID-19. Cantrell’s idea is to mandate coronavirus vaccines for travelers arriving or departing to the airport in Kenner, and only for a short time around the more popular Mardi Gras Events, like Fat Tuesday.

But the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Billy Nungesser, a Republican, said he hopes the measure doesn’t happen. Nungesser is worried the move may hurt attendance in a state that is desperate to see the tourism industry return after COVID and multiple hurricanes derailed the industry from its ordinarily high numbers.

“If you’re planning a trip, and we’re competing with other cities, here’s another ... hurdle for us. It’s not bad enough that we have to fight crime and cleanliness in the French Quarter,” said Nungesser

Nungesser said the mayor should be welcoming the world to join the state in celebrating Mardi Gras and that open-air gatherings, like when Wisconsin celebrated the Milwaukee Bucks winning an NBA Championship in early August, have shown to be feasible during a pandemic.

According to a report from the Washington Post, nearly 500 cases emerged from the event in Milwaukee after approximately 100,000 people entered the city's entertainment district to celebrate the victory.

The state's Attorney General, Jeff Landry, replied to a request for comment about the mayor's potential measure with three words: "This is ridiculous."

Stephen Perry, the President and CEO of New Orleans & Company, a non-profit tourism marketing agency for the city, also disapproves of the measure for financial reasons.

“We support safety measures, but this kind of approach, if implemented, would be hugely disruptive to the entire economy of New Orleans and have a tremendously negative financial effect on New Orleans residents who depend on the travel industry and the free flow of commerce,” said Perry in a statement Friday.

Erin Burns, the director of communications for MSY, said in a statement that throughout the pandemic, the airport has "taken great strides to ensure the safety of our travelers, and we will continue to comply with any public health protocols that are put into place."

The airport is still offering vaccinations through Ochsner Health available to the public on location.

To test the waters for events with large attendance, New Orleans is allowing the Krewe of Boo to roll on Oct. 23. The city said it would examine COVID-19 numbers after the parade to determine the feasibility of hosting Mardi Gras events.

City health officials have announced they will be in the crowd testing float riders and attendees of the Halloween-themed parade before and after the festivities to better understand the transmissions of the disease at outdoor events.

Cantrell said there is no set date on if she will approve the parade permits for Mardi Gras, but the announcement will come before the end of the year.

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