Fewer police, medics, so Mardi Gras parade routes shortened
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans is shortening parade routes for the upcoming Mardi Gras season because there are fewer police officers, medics and other first responders to handle the crowds, officials said Tuesday.
The city canceled Mardi Gras parades this past February because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2020 parade crowds are considered a big reason that New Orleans was an early pandemic hot spot.
“The big news and the best news is that Mardi Gras is returning to the city of New Orleans and to the world in 2022,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
As city officials announced their Carnival plans, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday that he’s again extended Louisiana’s public health emergency, which was first enacted by the Democratic governor in March 2020.
He’s modified it several times since then, and the latest version contains few restrictions for businesses and no statewide mask mandate.
But Edwards announced that agencies led by his cabinet secretaries will again start requiring employees and visitors to wear masks inside their offices, including at Office of Motor Vehicle locations around the state.
“While vaccines and booster doses are the strongest tools we have in the fight against COVID, public health experts also agree that masks are an important way to slow the spread of the omicron variant now. This means you should be masking indoors around people who aren’t in your household,” Edwards said in a statement.
The face covering recommendation comes as infectious disease experts say Louisiana appears to be entering its fifth surge of the coronavirus outbreak, driven by the fast-spreading omicron variant of the virus. The number of new cases of COVID-19 has doubled over the past week, and hospitalizations of patients with the coronavirus illness are starting to grow again.
That hasn’t derailed Mardi Gras plans in New Orleans, however.
Weeks of Carnival season parades lead up to Fat Tuesday, which will be on March 1. Members of each parade krewe pay for that group’s parade.
Some krewes have not decided whether to roll, but none has given pandemic guidelines, mandates or restrictions as the reason for their uncertainty, Cantrell said.
“Clearly it’s about the bottom line and the impacts COVID has had on our community and on our economy and particularly on their krewe members. ... They pay the price for us to enjoy our Mardi Gras,” the mayor said.
She said krewes will have to follow city pandemic restrictions.
Cantrell noted that “if things go wrong in our city” she might have to change its plans for Carnival and Mardi Gras plans.
But she said she is confident the city can make it through the omicron variant, flu season and the holiday season.
With 80% of its residents fully vaccinated, New Orleans is a national leader, she said.