New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and health department director Dr. Jennifer Avegno announced an update to the city’s vaccine mandate Thursday, December 16, expanding the age group it applies to so that it includes everyone ages five and older. While outlining a Mardi Gras-based vaccination timeline, they also warned that increasing cases of the omicron variant may necessitate the need to reinstate the indoor mask mandate in the lead-up to the holiday.
Right now, New Orleans’s mandate requiring residents and visitors to present vaccine proof or a negative COVID test for entry at restaurants, music venues, bars, and other indoor spaces applies to everyone 12 and older. During the afternoon press conference Thursday, Dr. Avegno said that by New Year’s, the city expects omicron to be more prevalent than delta, and that while at least one major study in South Africa indicated omicron causes less severe COVID, it’s also affecting a population that is “very young and healthy.” The Louisiana Department of Health reported 93 cases of the omicron variant in Louisiana Thursday, with 81 of those identified in the New Orleans area.
As such, Avegno said that “with one eye on omicron and one on Carnival,” the city is establishing a timeline for further expanding its vaccine mandate in the months leading up to Mardi Gras (which begins next year March 1, 2022). On January 3, 2022, the mandate requires those five years old and older to have received one vaccine dose visit indoor businesses. On February 1, Avegno said, the mandate will expand to require “full vaccination or a negative COVID test for everyone.” Avegno and Cantrell did not take questions, but it seems by “everyone,” Avegno meant those ages five and older, given that the vaccine is not currently FDA-approved for children under five.
Two weeks before Mardi Gras day, which is February 15, the city will “consider” reimposing the indoor mask mandate, Dr. Avegno said, “depending on what the rates are at the time.” If metrics are low, she said, this step may not be needed.
The city has previously said that the policy requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to dine or drink indoors will stay in place at least through Mardi Gras 2022; today’s announcement codifies that it will apply to everyone ages five and older. Mayor Cantrell said she will address Mardi Gras further in a press conference next week.