With less than two weeks until Mardi Gras day, New Orleans officials issued public safety rules intended to limit crowds congregating in the French Quarter and other parts of the city leading up to the holiday.
The restrictions start Feb. 12 and will be in place until Mardi Gras Day (Feb. 16).
In that time, all bars both indoors and outdoors will be closed. Bars that have conditional restaurant permits will not be allowed to open. There will be no liquor sales allowed in the French Quarter. To go drinks will be banned. Bourbon, Decatur, and Frenchman streets, which typically draw large crowds during the holiday, will be closed to pedestrians and vehicles between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m.
There will be heavier police enforcement in those areas, New Orleans city officials announced.
“We are doing this in response to the health crisis that we are in. There are three new COVID strains we know will have an impact in this city,” said New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell. “The consequences of not taking action… the costs are too high.”
‘Shame on us if Mardi Gras 2021 looks anything like Mardi Gras 2020’
Mardi Gras is the most lucrative time of year for the city, typically drawing close to 1 million visitors. In recent weeks, crowds of revelers have flocked back to Bourbon Street. Photos of unmasked people crowding the infamous stretch have raised alarms that Mardi Gras 2021 could lead to another spike in COVID-19 cases.
The announcement comes amid concerns that the city had not issued any new restrictions to mitigate crowds ahead of the holiday. The city canceled parades and prohibited large gatherings in November during Carnival season.
However, Mardi Gras celebrations also take place outside those formal events including, spontaneous house parties and large costumed gatherings.
More:Houses are the new parade float this Mardi Gras in New Orleans
New Orleans came under scrutiny last year after the city became an early hotspot for the virus. The first case of COVID-19 was reported on March 9, two weeks after Mardi Gras day. At the time city officials said there was no reason to cancel the weeks-long celebrations that accompany the holiday. Only 84 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the U.S. at that time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April was the most deadly month of the pandemic in Louisiana, averaging more than 60 deaths a day at its peak, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
More:New Orleans cancels Mardi Gras parades for 2021
Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed those concerns during a press conference Thursday, acknowledging that at the time little was known about the virus.
“Shame on us if Mardi Gras 2021 looks anything like Mardi Gras 2020 with the number of people with COVID in our state and across the country,” he said.
There have been more than 400,000 confirmed cases in Louisiana. The state hit the grim milestone of 9,000 deaths in February. While new infections have dropped since January, New Orleans is still averaging about two COVID-19 related deaths a day, according to New Orleans public health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno.
New variants of the virus, including a variant first identified in the United Kingdom, have also been confirmed in the state. The variants are up to 50% more contagious, according to health experts.
“We have to learn from the experience of last year,” said Louisiana assistant state health officer Dr. Joseph Kanter. ” We didn’t know the virus was circulating silently. Now, it’s on us to make it right. The virus is still circulating and the variant is waiting in the wings.”
Maria Clark is a general assignment reporter with The American South. Story ideas, tips, questions? Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MariaPClark1. Sign up for The American South newsletter. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.