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'Adjustments' to New Orleans COVID rules could come after some businesses flout vaccine mandate

New Orleans french quarter
Ashley Dean
/
WWNO
A woman sets up chairs outside a cafe in the French Quarter during the first surge of COVID 19 in 2020. The city requires that all restaurants ask patrons for proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test.

New Orleans residents and visitors could see potential “adjustments” to the current COVID-19 protocols in place on Thursday ahead of the holidays and New Orleans’ busy tourism season.

In a press conference Tuesday, the city’s director of communications Beau Tidwell wouldn’t specify what those changes might look like — and whether or not they would loosen or tighten the rules in place — but said that the matter would be discussed Thursday by Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the city’s director of health.

However, he assured the public that the current vaccine mandate, which requires patrons of certain businesses to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test from the last 72 hours, would remain in place through Mardi Gras.

The possible changes come just before the return of a busy time for the city, with New Year’s celebrations, Allstate Sugar Bowl, 12th Night events and several conventions kicking off 2022 before Carnival.

"We want people to come and want them to have a good time,” Tidwell said. “We want them to spend their money, and we want them to do it in the safest way possible, which is why we're referring back to the vaccine mandate that remains in place.”

Tidwell also said the city visited 55 businesses that were reported to the city's 311 hotline for failing to comply with the vaccine mandate. Of those, 19 businesses were caught openly disobeying the rules of checking proof of vaccination and received verbal warnings.

The violators were given information on how to comply with the measure.

"We're stepping up enforcement because we want to ensure the holidays are safe and we're all able to have the Mardi Gras that we've been envisioning for the past two years." Tidwell said.

He also added that the city would be visiting the 19 businesses again to check for compliance in the future. Consequences for a second infraction could include a citation or a shutdown. Some of the 55 restaurants and bars reported to 311 were closed during the city’s inspection.

Though COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have remained low for New Orleans and Louisiana, Avegno said the city’s hospitals are seeing dozens of probable omicron cases and several flu outbreaks. In front of the City Council on Monday, Avegno urged residents to take precautions now by getting booster shots and the flu vaccine.

Tulane University recently announced that due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, they would give students the option for completing the fall semester online. The university went from reporting one to two new cases a day in late November to 174 active cases as of Monday, according to its dashboard.

The university reported that it had found its first case of the omicron variant last Monday, and said Friday that they had additional probable cases, but did not provide any more details.

Cantrell and Avegno are scheduled to speak at 4 p.m. Thursday.

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