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Vaccine mandate for businesses lifted in New Orleans amid falling COVID numbers

covid cdc 2.jpg
A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The New Orleans COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which required patrons of certain businesses to provide proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test, was lifted Monday morning, according to a press release from city officials.

The public health measure, which was put in place citywide August 2021 and extended to children at the beginning of 2022, was one of the last major restrictions the city — and state — was enforcing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It applied to restaurants, bars, event venues and other businesses deemed as settings where high-risk behavior could take place.

The city's mask mandate was also lifted earlier this month.

“This is a critical and welcome milestone,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement. “I am deeply grateful to our entire community — our residents, our business owners, and our hospitality industry — for coming together to make this day possible. It could not have happened without our people taking the guidelines seriously and helping us not only flatten the curve — but emerge from the pandemic as a safe destination city."

The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths fall statewide, even after a return of Carnival season. As of noon Friday, state health officials reported 205 new cases, 171 hospitalizations and 16 deaths in Louisiana.

New Orleans Public Schools also lifted its mask mandate, though individual charter operators can keep masking rules in place. The district still has a vaccine mandate in place, which requires a full vaccination status from students as of February, though the district only has a 45% full vaccination rate a month into the order.

The lifting of the city's vaccine mandate was hinted at a week before Mardi Gras day, then again when city officials lifted the mask mandate on March 3, the same date that Cantrell and school board president Olin Parker were subpoenaed by Attorney General Jeff Landry to testify in a legal challenge over the COVID-19 restrictions.

But that suit was placed on hold following the mask mandate announcement. During a press conference, city officials said the lawsuit had no bearing on the decision and also announced that they were eyeing the vaccine mandate's expiration for March 21.

If officials didn't, one of the attorneys representing the more than 100 New Orleans-area parents who filed the suit said they were poised to reignite their legal challenge.

The city's vaccine mandate, one of the few in the country, was controversial among the state's Republican-dominated leadership and some impacted businesses that were still faced with financial challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the city's health director, and other city officials have said that if virus rates get out of hand, or a new concerning variant emerges, leaders will consider putting mandates back in place. But for now, they're continuing to encourage residents and visitors to get vaccinated.

“Throughout this pandemic, we've implemented the tools available and educated the public about the dangers of this virus, and we feel confident this approach has saved lives and kept our economy open,” Avegno said.

New Orleans boasts the highest vaccination rate in Louisiana, with 68.4% of its vaccine-eligible population fully vaccinated.

Katelyn Umholtz is the digital editor for WWNO and WRKF and is based out of New Orleans.

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