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New Orleans To Require Proof Of Vaccination To Enter Bars, Restaurants, Clubs

Phoebe Jones
Kyera Eloie sets up the bar at Seal's Class Act on a Friday evening.

When Cecile Dalton, owner of the bar Seal’s Class Act in the 7th Ward, heard about the citywide announcement requiring proof of vaccination for patrons at all bars, restaurants and other venues, she wasn’t upset.

She was thrilled.

“I’m glad it’s required to do this,” said Dalton, who was hospitalized last year after becoming infected with COVID-19. In fact, on Tuesday, Dalton announced that beginning Friday she would be asking patrons to prove their vaccination status before entering her bar. She’d been worried that her pro-vaccination stance could hurt business or alienate customers. Now, everyone will be doing it.

“I’m so happy that it’s just not me,” Dalton said. “I was worried that we were going to be shut down completely if we don’t do something and I cannot afford to do that.”

In a press conference on Thursday announcing the mandate for proof of vaccination, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, said she is not in favor of another shutdown.

Cantrell said that beginning Monday the city is requiring people to prove they’ve been vaccinated or show a recent COVID-19 test before they can enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other venues, including the Superdome.

“We will continue to stand to protect the health of our community, our people, our economy the best that we can,” Cantrell said.

This comes as the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus has pushed New Orleans’ test positivity rate to 12.2 percent and has put a strain on Louisiana hospitals, which are caring for 2,901 COVID patients, almost all of whom are unvaccinated. Cantrell also stated that many of the patients in New Orleans care facilities are currently from neighboring parishes that don't have as high vaccination rates.

“Like me, I suspect you are tired, you are frustrated and you are disappointed that the promise of an end to the pandemic this summer is out of reach,” Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno said at the press conference. “It’s very hard to predict when we might turn the corner.”

Avegno said the mask mandate the city passed at the end of July was a “critical first step,” but that the new mandate for proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test is what’s needed to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Although the city is allowing patrons to show negative COVID-19 tests, some bars owners, including Dalton, say they will require proof of vaccination only.

For Mark Schettler, general manager of Bar Tonique in the French Quarter, requiring a negative COVID-19 test results doesn’t make sense.

“If you contract it on Monday, test on Tuesday, get a negative back on Wednesday, and by Thursday, you're shedding the virus to infect the entire bar, I don't give a s*** about your 72 hour test. That doesn't keep anybody safe,” he said.

The bar will only require proof of vaccination.

Some French Quarter workers, who have seen the return of tourism in the past months are now preparing to deal with the complications of unvaccinated guests.

Andrew Smeeth, a server at Bayona, says he supports the city's decision but thinks the reactions of those who refuse vaccinations will be aggressive.

“What we had to endure over a simple mask mandate is now going to be amplified over asking for someone's medical records,” said Smeeth.

With festivals and annual events that normally bring a boost to his income cancelling this year, Smeeth worries about another measure that could interfere with his livelihood.

“Especially if you’re being tipped, you have to worry about how this interaction is going to affect your income,” he said.

Schettler noted that not having a designated door person had kept Bar Tonique from implementing its own vaccination mandate sooner.

“I don't know of a bar [that] is currently enforcing [a] vaccination mandate that does not have a door person,” Schettler said.

He said that the entire staff at Tonique is vaccinated and supports the mandate. The bar intends to hire someone to check for proof of COVID-19 vaccination at the door.

“It's not a job that I expect people to be breaking down the door to get but we're gonna pay well,” Schettler said. “And I think that it'll be easier than a masked mandate, because you'll know if you have proof of vaccination before you walk into the building.”

Bars will have some time to implement a system for checking for proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests. Cantrell said although the mandate begins on Monday, the city will wait until August 23 to begin “aggressive enforcement.”

The newly branded Caesar's Superdome will host two Saints preseason games this month and another in early September. The regular season begins September 12, as the Saints face the Green Bay Packers for a Sunday afternoon game.

Bobbi-Jeanne Misick is the justice, race and equity reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between NPR, WWNO in New Orleans, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama and MPB-Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson. She is also an Ida B. Wells Fellow with Type Investigations at Type Media Center.

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