New Orleans residents and tourists are being asked to avoid large gatherings and exercise “personal responsibility” ahead of Mardi Gras, which will look very different this year.
“Please, I’m begging you, please do not attempt any large gatherings,” New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said at a news conference Friday.
“We have put a plan in place that we think will be very, very successful in ensuring a scaled-back and safe Mardi Gras weekend,” he said.
All bars must close starting Friday, including those that have a temporary license from the state to operate as restaurants, Ferguson said, highlighting a move announced last week by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
NOPD will limit access on Bourbon Street from Canal Street to Dumaine Street this weekend, with both Bourbon and Frenchmen streets closing completely on February 16, Mardi Gras day.
A ‘targeted approach’ to controlling crowds
The Claiborne Corridor from St. Louis to St Bernard Avenue, “has been fenced off underneath the interstate and that will be patrolled by our officers, partnered along with the Louisiana State Police,” Ferguson said.
The French Quarter will also be patrolled by police. Ferguson emphasized that officers will be looking for bad actors.
“This is normally the second weekend of Mardi Gras and after the crowds that we saw last weekend on Bourbon Street, I believe that it was very important that we had a more targeted, more intentional approach with regards to dispersing and addressing large crowd gatherings,” he said.
“Everyone has a stake in this Covid-19 response,” Ferguson said.
“I think this four- or five-day sacrifice is nothing … compared to a lot of sacrifice we may have to endure later if we do not work together to get over this global pandemic,” he said.
Bar shuttered and to-go drinks banned
Last Friday, Mayor Cantrell announced the closure of all indoor and outdoor bars as well as a ban on to-go drinks starting at 6 a.m. Friday, February 12, through 6 a.m. Wednesday, February 17.
Packaged liquor sales will also be prohibited in the French Quarter and the Central Business District.
Cantrell referred to recent crowds in the city as superspreader events, calling them dangerous and a risk to lives and the progress the city has made in stopping the spread of Covid-19.
“I think we were all hopeful that we could strike the necessary balance for a safe and fun Mardi Gras, but given these new variants, the recent large crowds in the Quarter and the potential for even larger crowds this weekend and as we move into the weekend of Mardi Gras, it has become very apparent that it is hard to do” Cantrell said last week.
The mayor said she would rather be accused of doing too much than doing too little when it comes to the health and safety of the residents, especially hospitality workers.
Business owners react
Reactions from business owners were mixed.
Chris Hannah, an award-winning bartender and an owner of Jewel of the South in the French Quarter, applauded the move.
“For the mayor to finally target the area in the French Quarter where proper Covid-19 protocols were basically laughed at, I’m overjoyed,” he said via email.
For others, the decision to close bars across the city felt last-minute and sparked frustration.
Scott Wood, who owns Courtyard Brewery in the Lower Garden District, said this is probably the seventh or eighth time he’s shuttered his business during the pandemic.
“The city had known Mardi Gras was going to be a problem for months and had no clear plan disseminated. For them to spring this on us a week out, while Mardi Gras festivities are already in swing, is unfortunate and frustrating,” Wood said via email after bar closures were announced on February 5.
Parades, second lines and other gatherings were already prohibited under the current Modified Phase Two restrictions in the city. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people and indoor gatherings may include no more than 10 individuals. Masks and social distancing are required.