New Orleans Mayor, Health Director Lay Out COVID-19 Data Ahead Of Plans For Reopening

May 11, 2020

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and health department director Dr. Jennifer Avegno shared the citywide COVID-19 data and federal guidelines they're working with as they move toward reopening the city.

Details on what the phased reopening of the Louisiana economy will look like in New Orleans will be released Tuesday, Cantrell announced at a press conference Monday afternoon.

The city’s loosened restrictions will go into effect on Saturday, after the city’s current stay-at-home mandate expires. At the moment, extremely general descriptions of the city’s phased reopening are available online.

The city's announcement came just before to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ announcement that Louisiana would enter Phase One of the reopening of the state’s economy on Friday. That order allows many businesses to reopen, but with strict regulations such as a reduced capacity. 

Cantrell said the city would largely follow the state’s lead as Louisiana progresses through various phases of reopening, but emphasized that the city’s own loosened restrictions could look slightly different from statewide restrictions at times.

“The state’s guidance is a floor — a baseline floor — it’s not the ceiling,” Cantrell said. “So on potential restrictions and safety precautions, we as a city have the right to chart our own course.”

Cantrell said any future, city-specific changes would be driven by public health concerns and the latest data.

“As we turn, or loosen up the faucet a little bit, we have to always be in a situation where we [can] tighten it back up,” she said.

Data Shows City Is Ready For Phase One Of Reopening

Guidelines from the White House outline a multi-pronged “gating criteria” that cities and states should meet before proceeding to Phase One of reopening. Those include:

  • a downward trajectory of flu-like symptoms for 14 days;
  • a downward trajectory of documented coronavirus cases for 14 days;
  • ramped up testing and contact tracing plans;
  • robust hospital capacity;
  • and sector-specific guidelines for reopening businesses.

Emphasizing that the city’s decision to cautiously reopen was driven by data, Avegno said guidance from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Hopkins University and the Resilient Louisiana Commission helped the city craft its own milestones to meet.

Here they are as laid out in a press release following the conference:

  • A rolling average of 50 or fewer daily new cases in New Orleans for at least 21 days
  • The ability to consistently test 4 to 5 percent of our population each month
  • A set protocol for contact tracing, monitoring, and isolation capabilities
  • Ensuring there is adequate capacity in our healthcare system to handle the number of both COVID and non-COVID cases (including hospital admissions, ICU capacity, and number of available ventilators)
  • Ensure sector-specific guidelines for operations are in place before easing restrictions

Avegno said that while the city currently meets the criteria for moving into the first phase, not all regions of the state have seen the same progress at reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

“And that’s concerning for them and for us. Because, again, we are not isolated on an island,” she said.

City Softens Stance On Business Role In Contact Tracing

New Orleans officials appear to have softened their expectations around the role of businesses in contact tracing. Cantrell had previously said that businesses could be at least partially responsible for contact tracing, and floated the idea of requiring businesses to keep customer logs.

That proposal met criticism from some in the business community, who suggested that such responsibilities could be too onerous for business owners and difficult to implement, especially for those with a high volume of customers.

On Monday, Avegno said “most of the burden” of contact tracing possible coronavirus customers would be on the individual and the contact tracer. But Avegno noted that there “might be more requirements” of businesses that have “high intensity contact.”

Avegno said the state would be releasing guidance for businesses regarding contact tracing “in the next several days” and that the city would follow the state’s guidelines.