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Indoor mask mandate is back in New Orleans ahead of Mardi Gras 2022

A vaccinator administers a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. March 4, 2021.
Phoebe Jones
A vaccinator administers a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. March 4, 2021.

Due to hospitalization rates that continue to climb and overwhelm the healthcare system, the indoor mask mandate is back in place for New Orleans starting Wednesday, according to officials.

The announcement came during a Tuesday press conference from Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the city’s health department director, who said some city hospitals are seeing staffing shortages in the triple digits and patients are being cared for in the hallways. The requirement will go into effect at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

“We have to double down on measures more than ever before,” Avegno said. “Given that there is continued transmission, the City of New Orleans is reinstating the mask mandate and will remain in place until further notice.”

The Louisiana Department of Health reported 12,494 new cases over the weekend, and hospitalizations are up to 1,905 after hovering around 200 for much of fall.

Avegno said the lack of beds is also a problem at hospitals, and even children’s hospitals are seeing a surge in COVID-19 patients, all unvaccinated.

The reinstated mandate is not only in place because of the spike in cases and hospitalizations, Avegno said, but because of approaching Mardi Gras parades and balls, returning for the first time since 2020 and are expected to attract millions of visitors.

“EMS volume goes up significantly just for normal Carnival stuff. You do things that you do in New Orleans,” Avegno said. “That’s why it behooves us right now to get back to normal as much as we can.”

The mandate will likely remain in effect through Carnival season, which means attendees of balls and other indoor events will be required to wear masks.

In recent weeks due to the omicron surge, health officials have strongly recommended individuals use high-quality masks, like N95 and KN95. Avegno reminded residents that those are the safest masks against omicron, and the city hopes to open up six sites to hand out such masks.

The mask mandate would pair well with frequent testing to prevent the transmissible variant from spreading further, Avegno said, except that testing supplies remain a major problem for New Orleans and across the nation.

As other states compete for the same supply, Louisiana health officials put in an order for more at-home tests weeks ago and still have yet to see the supply get here.

“Testing supply remains a concern and should cause us to act cautious,” Avegno said. “I’m being told that it’s looking good for this week, but we don't have a lot of guarantees. If you are sick, take it seriously — that tickle in your throat is not allergies. It’s not strep throat.”

Avegno said officials are hopeful that the peak in cases will come in a couple of weeks, though hospitalizations will lag behind that.

She also celebrated New Orleans’ completed adult vaccination rate of 81%, higher than both the state and national rate, but urged parents to get more of their kids vaccinated. The vaccination completion rate for children 5-17 in New Orleans is 35%.

The city vaccine mandate, which requires patrons of some businesses to provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR coronavirus test, was recently extended to children as young as 5 years old. New Orleans Public Schools also added the coronavirus vaccine to its list of required immunizations.

“It’s incredibly safe, and we have not had a pediatric death from the vaccine,” Avegno said. “If you want your kid to take part in the (Mardi Gras) festivities, you really have to protect them as best as you can.”

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

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