New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Friday announced a slew of new restrictions and “enhanced enforcement” measures to stop large crowds and coronavirus spread during Mardi Gras, including bar closures, street closures, extra patrols from the New Orleans Police Department and outside supplemental aid from the Louisiana State Police, the State Fire Marshal and The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.
Cantrell said that heavier enforcement of coronavirus restrictions would start this weekend. But the heaviest restrictions will start on Friday Feb. 12 and continue through Fat Tuesday on Feb. 16. Over that time, all bars in the city will be closed, including both indoor and outdoor service. Bars that have received temporary restaurant permits during the pandemic will also be forced to close. While restaurants will be allowed to stay open, to-go drinks will be banned throughout the city.
The city is also closing some high-traffic streets to both vehicles and pedestrians from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., including Decatur Street, Bourbon Street between Canal Street and Dumaine Street and the 500 and 600 blocks of Frenchmen Street.
Liquor stores, and the sale of package liquor, will be completely prohibited in the French Quarter from Feb. 12 to Feb. 16. And the Claiborne underpass will also be fenced off between St. Louis Street and Saint Bernard Avenue. Cantrell also said that there would be stricter enforcement on street performances and street vending.
At the beginning of Friday’s press conference, Cantrell referenced a video that had proliferated on social media in recent days of massive crowds partying on Bourbon Street, calling it ”unacceptable.”
Officials on Friday, including City Council member Helena Moreno, saved their sharpest warnings for visitors and businesses planning on violating the rules.
“For those looking to come to Mardi Gras where you’re going to be in crowds, going up and down streets drinking in bars and hanging out with a bunch of people — that Mardi Gras is not happening this year. So don’t come,” Moreno said. She added that she currently has a family member in the hospital due to the virus. “I can tell you this pandemic is not over.”
Peter Bowen, who head’s the city’s Office of Business and External Services, said that the large majority of New Orleans businesses have worked with the city to abide by the rules to stay safe. But he had some harsh words for the businesses that have not.
“I want to recognize those businesses that continue to break every guideline put in place by this administration. We see your backdoor entrances, allowing enormous indoor mass gatherings,” Bowen said Friday. “We see your attempts to open and operate after 11 p.m. we see your social media accounts luring college students into your death traps. Your selfishness continues to threaten the delicate ecosystem that is our hospitality industry. You are directly responsible for the deaths of New orleanians.”
Cantrell said that businesses that flout the laws could be at risk of permanently losing their business licenses.
“Voluntary compliance is always our objective, but the time for warnings is over,” Bowen said. “If you are found not in compliance, you will be shut down on the spot.”
As for individuals flouting restrictions, NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson officers can issue $500 citations for violating coronavirus restrictions.
Mardi Gras 2020, which included coronavirus-inspired Krewes, was cited as a reason New Orleans became one of the first hotspots in the country last spring. Some national media criticized the city for holding the annual parades, although the Cantrell administration and other public officials said there was no federal guidance suggesting severe mitigation measures like event closures by February 2020.
“To those that are upset about these restrictions, know that when it comes to our health and our people, especially our workforce, our hospitality workforce, I’d rather be accused of doing too much than doing too little,” Cantrell said.
She also encouraged affected hospitality workers to file with the Louisiana Workforce Commission to collect unemployment for the time the new temporary restrictions are in place.