Students at 42 Charter School arrive on the first day of in-person classes since COVID-19 shuttered schools in March of 2020. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

The NOLA Public Schools district is once again recommending students and staff wear masks indoors due to a high prevalence of COVID-19 in New Orleans that sent the city into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s “high” community coronavirus category.

Most schools are wrapping up the school year, but a handful are still in session or holding end-of-the-year events, like high school graduations, that draw large crowds. Summer school classes are also beginning and will take place throughout June.

The city is averaging 90 new cases per day — down from last week. One local analyst believes cases are starting to plateauing, not yet dropping. The city’s test positivity rate is 9.6 percent, which is considered high, according to state and city data. Those data are of course based only on reported tests and infections, not at-home rapid tests. 

After reinstating the mask mandate during the Delta surge last summer, the district lifted the requirement in mid-March when case counts were on the decline. 

NOLA Public Schools spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo said the recommendation went into effect on Tuesday.

“As a result of the increase in community spread and in line with our well-established COVID-19 protocols, NOLA Public Schools informed all schools this morning of its recommendation that masks be worn indoors by all students and staff while in school buildings, on school buses, and for school related events effective May 31, 2022,” she wrote in a Friday email. “This recommendation will remain in place until our city’s COVID-19 Community Level falls back to medium or low, upon that time the indoor masking recommendation will be lifted.”

New Orleans Health Department spokeswoman Isis Cassanova said the agency also supports the decision.

“The recommendations/precautions LDH gave you about the importance of masking, testing, and vaccines are precisely the same messages NOHD is amplifying in Orleans Parish, especially now that levels are high,” she wrote in an email. “In addition, we highly recommend people who test positive and are showing symptoms contact their health care provider to see if anti-viral medications, like Paxlovid, are right for them. Paxlovid is very effective but must be taken within the first five days of showing symptoms.”

“People who do not have a doctor can visit a Test to Treat clinic that can write a prescription,” she said. 

The city also announced last week it would begin closing community testing and vaccine sites the National Guard has operated for roughly two years. Other vaccine and testing information can be found here

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...