NEW ORLEANS - The New Orleans Saints and the officials who run the Caesars Superdome have spent decades controlling the chaos of thousands of fans streaming into the stadium on game day.
This season, a major wrinkle arrived less than two weeks before the first Saints first home preseason showdown: the need to comply with new citywide rules and check that every fan with a ticket also has proof of a COVID-19 shot, or a recent negative test.
ASM Global, the company that manages the Superdome on behalf of the state-sponsored Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, known as the Superdome Commission, released a plan Friday aimed at heading off a potential logistical logjam when the Saints take on the Jacksonville Jaguars and fans arrive Monday for the first Saints home game without coronavirus-related capacity restrictions since January, 2020.
Fans will need to prove their vaccination status or show their negative coronavirus test results at one of 21 locations on the security perimeter around the Superdome and Champions Square, according to maps and other information provided by ASM.
Workers will be checking documentation at all entrances, stairs and ramps leading up to the exterior plaza that surrounds the Dome's main gates, including on both sides of the Gate A ramp on Poydras Street.
Both entrances to Champions Square, on the Poydras and Girod street sides, will also have vaccine check locations. And there will be checkpoints at the entrance for people who are disabled, as well as the entrances for suites and the End Zone Club.
Kids under 12 who are not currently eligible for a vaccine won't need a recent test either. But everyone regardless of vaccination status will need to wear a mask inside, in accordance with city rules, the documents said. If anyone leaves the security perimeter, they'll need to show their vaccination or test status again.
The Saints and the Superdome have been planning to start the season with a packed stadium for months, ever since vaccines became widely available and the city dropped all of its capacity restrictions and other rules on businesses that were put in place earlier in the pandemic.
Saints players, coaches and staff have cheered the idea of playing in front of more than 70,000 raucous fans loud enough to disrupt opponent offenses and help give the team its "Dome field advantage."
But in recent weeks the highly-transmissible delta variant — combined with a woefully low statewide vaccination rate — has sent coronavirus cases soaring. Thousands of mostly unvaccinated people have crowded into the state's hospitals and dozens of people are dying of the virus every day.
In response, Cantrell and Gov. John Bel Edwards reissued mask mandates. Cantrell went farther, and on Aug. 13 said customers of restaurants, bars, gyms, event venues like the Superdome and Smoothie King Center and some other businesses would need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to be admitted.
The mandate took effect Monday and enforcement is set to begin Aug. 23, the same day as the Saints' preseason game against the Jaguars.
The Saints quickly announced they'd work to comply with the mandate, but in doing so sparked a political controversy. After the Saints told season ticket holders there would be no refunds due to the vaccine mandate, Attorney General Jeff Landry demanded that they revise the policy while threatening to rally legislators to cut off subsidies to the team and the stadium.
The Saints quickly reversed course. But Landry — who has challenged rules aimed at keeping the public safe throughout the pandemic — and other members of the state Bond Commission still voted to delay two Superdome funding streams during a meeting Thursday.
Despite the political imbroglio about ticket refunds, the vaccine rules will remain in place. But it's anybody's guess how smoothly things will go when the new entrance policy meets the hordes of fans expected to arrive Monday night.
The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Most vaccine checkpoints will open two hours before kickoff, at 5 p.m. A few others, including the ones for Champions Square, will open three hours before kickoff.
ASM Global and the Saints encouraged fans to use the LA Wallet app, but original vaccination cards, a photograph of the card or a photocopied version of both sides will also be accepted. For people vaccinated in another state or country, official vaccination records from those entities or the World Health Organization will also work.
Unvaccinated fans will need to show results from negative PCR coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of their arrival.
Alternatively, they can quickly get a shot. Ochsner Health will be onsite to provide free vaccines at two locations around the Superdome. Fans who receive their first shot on gameday will be allowed to enter the Superdome without having proof of a negative test result.
City Hall spokesman Beau Tidwell referred questions about added security or police patrols to the Superdome. ASM Global declined to provide any specifics about how they are increasing staffing or security to handle the additional checkpoints.
Typically, there are a host of law enforcement agencies working in and around the Superdome on gameday. New Orleans police are on site, as are Superdome police officers who do not work for the NOPD but are granted a special commission that gives them some arresting powers. ASM Global also employs people working in public safety.