Effective immediately, restaurants and bars in New Orleans will no longer be required to ask patrons for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to dine indoors, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced on Monday, March 21. It marks the end of COVID restrictions in the city, save for federally required mask mandates remain on public buses and streetcars.
The move comes three weeks after Mardi Gras, a critical period for determining the impact of the holiday on COVID numbers. The city first dropped its indoor mask mandate on March 2, the day after Mardi Gras, saying at the time that if city’s virus levels remained stable, the mandate requiring vaccination proof or a negative COVID test would be lifted on March 21. Today, the Mayor’s press release announcing the end of the mandate says, “Reported cases in Orleans Parish remain at very low levels, and hospital capacity is robust. Wastewater testing results correlate these findings of low viral transmission.”
The mandate was first issued in August, and required patrons 12 and over to provide proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot or a recent negative test for entry at restaurants, bars, breweries, and music venues. Four months later, the mandate was expanded to include everyone five and under. New Orleans was the only parish in Louisiana that implemented a vaccine mandate, as the city has generally had stricter guidelines throughout the pandemic. Last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards allowed Louisiana’s public health emergency proclamation to expire on March 14, two years after it was established.
Unlike when the administration has previously loosened or dropped COVID restrictions, the Mayor’s statement did not warn of the potential for restrictions to return, but instead seemed to urge a shift towards personal responsibility. “Residents should prepare for the likelihood of future surges by continuing to assess risk levels for themselves and loved ones and relying on proven mitigation strategies: testing, masks, and staying up to date with COVID vaccinations,” the statement said. In the last month or so, vaccination and mask mandates for indoor dining have been disappearing across the country, beginning with New York state and followed by Philadelphia, the Twin Cities, Chicago, D.C., and more.
While local enforcement of the mandate has certainly seemed to wane in recent weeks, particularly in the lead-up to and during Mardi Gras, restaurant owners are now left to figure out how to they’ll proceed on their own; it’s possible some restaurants and bars will continue to require vaccination proof for entry, as has happened in a number of other cities following the end of mandates.