NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans will reinstitute an indoor mask mandate to fight the spread of COVID-19 while readying for an influx of visitors for the Mardi Gras season, the city health director said Tuesday.
Dr. Jennifer Avegno said the mandate takes effect Wednesday at 6 a.m. and will apply to participants in the annual Mardi Gras balls that take place in the city.
Avegno said Louisiana's statewide coronavirus daily hospitalization numbers have grown in three weeks “by a factor of seven.” She said those cases have put a strain on hospitals, with emergency room waits as long as 12 hours in some facilities.
Growing numbers of coronavirus cases, driven by the omicron variant can affect treatment for people seeking treatment for other illnesses or injuries, Avegno said.
And, while Avegno said she’s hoping cases will subside in coming weeks, she added hospitalizations and deaths show up weeks after cases are reported. That could mean continued pressure from coronavirus cases about the time emergency rooms face an annua uptick in patient numbers as Mardi Gras nears and tourists, some of them overindulging in alcohol, flood the city.
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, falls on March 1 this year. Major parades, which draw as many as a million locals and visitors to city streets, begin in the last two weeks of February.
The city already has a requirement that people show proof of vaccinations or negative tests for entry into bars, restaurants and numerous other venues.
Mardi Gras in 2020 became what officials later realized was an early Southern superspreader of COVID-19. Festivities were largely canceled last year. This year, officials are determined to proceed with Mardi Gras events, while enforcing vaccine and testing requirements.
The state health department said Tuesday that just over 1,900 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Louisiana as of Monday, up from about 200 in mid-December.