New Orleans Officials Excited, Cautious as Fat Tuesday Nears
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One year after the coronavirus pandemic forced a parade-free, quiet Mardi Gras in New Orleans, city officials Monday touted preparations in place for a return to the big parades and festivities expected over the next two weeks ahead of Fat Tuesday.
Parades were canceled last year out of fear the festivities could become a superspreader event like the 2020 Mardi Gras season, which is widely considered to have contributed to New Orleans becoming an early pandemic hot spot. But this year, parades and balls associated with the season, which started Jan. 6, are going ahead. The next two weekends are considered the height of the celebrations, which end March 1 on Fat Tuesday.
“We are very excited to be back having our first Mardi Gras in almost two years,” said Collin Arnold, who heads the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “A lot of planning has gone into this event.”
Officials laid out preparations for the expected onslaught of visitors — some pandemic-related and others part of the city’s normal security plans.
The city’s top health official, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, called on people who haven’t been vaccinated or gotten their booster shot to do so. The city is averaging about 139 confirmed coronavirus cases a day, with about 6% of all reported tests coming back positive. Although that is far below numbers just weeks ago when the omicron variant was surging, Avegno said it’s still high. And positivity rates in areas surrounding New Orleans are higher, she cautioned.
The city is working to have a rapid testing site at the airport, and workers will be giving out at-home testing kits along parade routes to encourage people to test before going to a ball or an event, she said.
The city is an outlier in the South in that it has a vaccination mandate in place for everyone 5 and up in locations such as restaurants or indoor music venues. The city also has an indoor mask mandate.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, at a separate news conference in Baton Rouge, asked people — especially older ones or those with compromised immunity — to weigh the risks of participating in Mardi Gras events.
“Consider if there are things you should do to protect yourself or really if you should go at all,” he said.
Security is always a key concern during Mardi Gras season, although tensions are especially heightened this year over a rising homicide rate. Police Chief Shaun Ferguson said the police will start 12-hour shifts Friday that will continue through Fat Tuesday. The city has also tapped additional federal and private resources to have more ambulances and crews available. The city previously announced that it was trimming the length of parades to ease strain on overstretched first responders.
Tandem floats, where multiple floats are connected and pulled by one tractor, will feature orange barriers between the floats to prevent people from crossing between them. That change comes after two people died in 2020 after being hit by tandem floats.
By AP reporter Rebecca Santana