New Orleans is bringing back a mask mandate for “all indoor spaces,” officials announced Tuesday, effective 6 a.m. Wednesday, January 12. The city’s latest COVID safety measure comes at the start of a long Carnival season, with city health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno indicating the indoor mask requirement will remain in place through Mardi Gras, which this year falls on March 1.
“It’s something we’ve been looking at for awhile,” Dr. Avegno said during a press conference Tuesday in response to a question about whether the mandate should have been reimplemented sooner. The city’s fifth COVID surge, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, has been ongoing for about a month, causing record average daily case counts and a current test positivity rate of 31.7 percent. The number of people hospitalized has also surged, with 456 COVID patients in New Orleans-area hospitals as of January 10. “I will say, it shouldn’t take a mandate to do this,” Dr. Avegno continued. “Those of us in public health, we don’t like doing these. But when [our guidance] is proving to be insufficient, that’s when it’s time to issue the mandate,” Avegno said.
“Should it have been earlier? Maybe so. But it’s very clear right now the need is there to do this, so we’re doing so,” said city spokesperson Beau Tidwell.
A number of New Orleans restaurants have had to close temporarily in the last few weeks due to staffing issues caused by the omicron surge, while others have reimplemented their own indoor mask mandates. On social media, some city residents have wondered what the hold-up is, given that a positivity rate of five percent and above was consistently the threshhold for issuing additional safety measures previously.
“There’s always been the hope this would be a statewide mandate. Not to throw blame at the state, it’s just so much easier to implement when it is statewide,” Dr. Avegno added in response to the question about timing.
The city has previously said that its 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; last month officials announced the vaccine mandate would expand to apply to everyone ages five and older as of February 1.