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COVID rules could be eased in weeks after Mardi Gras 2022, health director says

A Lady Gaga-inspired rolls down Napoleon Avenue during the Krewe of Cleopatra parade on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.
Katelyn Umholtz
A Lady Gaga-inspired rolls down Napoleon Avenue during the Krewe of Cleopatra parade on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.

Amid a downturn in COVID-19 cases, New Orleans city health director Dr. Jennifer Avengo hinted on Wednesday that some restrictions could be lifted in the weeks following Mardi Gras.

But Avegno emphasized to a City Council committee that this won’t happen until after Carnival, which she described as New Orleans’ “high-risk event.”

“We have the biggest show on earth. We have the biggest party on earth,” Avegno said. “So we need to have the strongest protection on earth.”

The rate of new COVID cases in New Orleans has dropped significantly from a peak in January, fueled by the omicron variant. The city is currently reporting an average of 60 new cases a day. Over 84.5% of adults in New Orleans are fully vaccinated, though only about 45% of children ages 5-17 have received the full vaccination series.

Avegno pointed to continuing deaths — particularly among kids — as a reminder to keep wearing masks and getting vaccinated if not already.

Councilwoman Lesli Harris asked Avegno to remind the public about the city’s current COVID guidelines, after Harris and other elected officials faced flak for removing their masks during a Carnival ball last weekend.

Avegno clarified that masks should be worn indoors unless one is actively eating or drinking. There’s no specific guidance around removing a mask to take a photo, which Avegno said isn’t especially risky, but doing so repeatedly over the course of a night “violates the spirit” of the rule.

Avegno also encouraged Mardi Gras revelers to enjoy festivities outside as much as possible, where the likelihood of spreading the virus is lower.

The city is getting creative with its mitigation measures over Mardi Gras. Members of the health department will roll with the Krewe of Muses tomorrow evening, throwing take-home tests to revelers.

The agency will also have a table set up at the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club’s Lundi Gras event to distribute tests. The Le Bon Ton Babydolls will be in costume giving out take-home tests on Frenchmen Street this weekend.

First-aid stations along parade routes will have masks, hand sanitizer, and take-home tests. For Uptown parades, those sites are located at:

  • St. Charles and Napoleon avenues
  • St. Charles and Washington avenues
  • St. Charles Avenue and Felicity Street
  • St. Charles Avenue at Égalité Circle
  • St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street

And for Endymion on Saturday, those stations will be set up at North Carrollton Avenue at Bienville Street and North Broad at Canal streets.
There will also be a COVID testing site at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport during peak travel for Mardi Gras, from Feb. 23-26, and on Feb. 28 and March 2. That’s in addition to an existing COVID-19 vaccination site at the airport.

More testing and vaccination sites across the metro area can be found here.

Current city guidelines require residents and visitors to wear masks in all indoor spaces outside the home. Individuals ages 5 and up must show proof of full vaccination, or a negative test within the last 72 hours, in order to access bars, restaurants, indoor entertainment and indoor Carnival balls.

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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