In a Wednesday press conference addressing the rate of COVID-19 in New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city’s health director, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, announced an indoor mask advisory, urging everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask inside when with people who are not in their immediate household. They also reiterated the urgent need for eligible unvaccinated people to get their vaccines as soon as possible, amid rapidly increasing COVID-19 numbers in Louisiana due to the highly transmissible delta variant.
For restaurants and bars, this means patrons are advised to keep their masks on when entering restaurants, when not seated for drinking and dining, and when picking up food. The advisory also recommends service industry workers keep their masks on while working.
The difference between an advisory and a mandate, the mayor said, is that the advisory doesn’t trigger enforcement from New Orleans agencies — rather it “puts the responsibility on individuals themselves,” Cantrell said. Individual responsibility has been a common theme throughout the administration’s approach to the pandemic, especially when it comes to the upcoming fall season of festivals, events, and football. “We have stated that we have a great fall we’re all looking forward to, and that could be jeopardized if we don’t do the right thing,” Cantrell said Wednesday.
There has been a nine-fold increase of COVID-19 cases in New Orleans in just the last two weeks, officials said, and Louisiana current has its third-highest rate of the virus since the start of the pandemic. “This is the most immediate, most tangible thing we can do to slow the spread,” said Cantrell.
Dr. Avegno emphasized that the spread of the delta variant among our “unvaccinated population and unvaccinated visitors is such that it’s putting all of us at risk.” She said that the overwhelming majority of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths — 97 percent — continue to be among the unvaccinated. “But because the burden is so great, because the virus is spreading so rapidly among the unvaccinated, we are starting to see those breakthrough cases,” Avegno said.
New Orleans has the highest rate of vaccinations of any Louisiana parish — 69 percent of adults have had at least one shot and 63 percent are fully vaccinated — but Louisiana has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Alarmingly, the city of Chicago just announced that Louisiana residents are among those in a handful of states that will either have to quarantine for 10 days prior to their trip or have proof of a negative COVID test in the 72 hours before their trip to be permitted to visit. (It’s a measure that might also make sense for a city like New Orleans, which has a high vaccination rate on its own but is threatened by the influx of unvaccinated tourists).
During a press briefing on Tuesday, New Orleans spokesperson Beau Tidwell said “We want the Saints. We want full capacity; want Jazz Fest to happen. For that we need to get this under control...This is very serious and cause for alarm. Additional mitigation measures may be necessary.”
UPDATE: Friday, July 23, 2021, 3:42 p.m.: Louisiana Governor joined New Orleans in recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors.