New Orleans is shutting down bars along with Bourbon and Frenchmen streets for Mardi Gras.
The closures begin Feb. 12 and will last through Fat Tuesday.
The closures include bars that serve food using a conditional permit from the state to operate as a restaurant. Bars and restaurants will not be able to sell to-go drinks either. Packaged liquor sales will be banned in the French Quarter.
A section of Decatur Street in the French Quarter will be closed and the Claiborne Avenue underpass will be fenced off.
Police officers will be standing by barricades at intersections along Bourbon and Frenchmen streets. The barricades will be in place between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. Decatur Street will be closed from Dumaine Street to Toulouse Street. Officers will allow residents, retail customers, restaurant patrons and hotel guests to go to and from their destinations in the French Quarter, but loitering will not be permitted.
In Uptown, Magazine street will not have physical barricades but will see increased law enforcement presence.
“To those who are upset about these restrictions, know that when it comes to our health and our people, especially our workforce, our hospitality workforce, I’d rather be accused of doing too much than doing too little,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during a press conference.
Deputy CAO of Office of Business and External Services Peter Bowen said bars that are caught out of compliance will be shut down. The mayor added that those bars risk losing their licenses for periods past the carnival season.
“I’m pleading with the community to abide by the guidelines that have been put in place,” NOPD Superintendent Shawn Ferguson said at the press conference.
Ferguson said that beginning today there will be increased police presence throughout the city to discourage large gatherings.
The state police will send 30 additional troopers to New Orleans.
Ferguson said the law enforcement presence in the city will be similar to what it has looked like on New Year’s Eve and during Sugar Bowl festivities.
City Council President Helena Moreno had a message for visitors looking to party in New Orleans: “Don’t come.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Councilmember Jay Banks, who said 23 people he knows have died from COVID-19.
“If you have an aversion to wearing a mask, stay where ya at,” Banks said of visitors planning to travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
Banks, a member and former king of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which lost several key members to COVID-19 last spring, asked New Orleanians to “boil your crawfish, cook your ribs … do what you do, but do it at your house with your pod.”
Cantrell acknowledged the financial hit of shutting down businesses during Mardi Gras weekend. She said the fence along Claiborne Avenue will cost $69,000.
“But we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people, and this is one I will not waver on,” Cantrell said.
Health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno said the city is averaging two COVID-19 related deaths per day.
She expressed concern over new variants of the virus — commonly called the U.K., South Africa and Brazil variants — that are up to 50 percent more contagious than the current dominant strain.
She acknowledged that the U.S. is not conducting enough molecular testing for variant strains to know the real numbers of mutations that exist in different communities.
“We’re very concerned that this is the tip of the iceberg and that’s a real marker that there is a very strong potential of another surge just around the corner in our state in the city and in the U.S.,” Avegno said.
Cantrell said the city’s hospitality workers are a “priority for the city of New Orleans as it relates to getting vaccinated, as soon as we have the doses and approvals necessary, they are at the top of our list.”
New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance called Cantrell’s comment welcoming visitors to New Orleans during Mardi Gras “irresponsible.” The organization is planning a motorcade to “demand a safe Mardi Gras” for Feb. 7. It’s unclear whether the event will take place now that new restrictions have been ordered.