NEW ORLEANS - Mayor LaToya Cantrell and New Orleans' top health official told leaders of many of the city’s 34 parading organizations Thursday that the city is working toward something resembling a normal Mardi Gras season, but it's too early to say whether parades can roll responsibly in 2022.
“We’re doing everything we can to ensure that Carnival happens,” the mayor said at a meeting of the Mardi Gras Advisory Committee. She warned, however, that she intends to see that New Orleans “moves forward without any regrets at all.”
Cantrell decided in November that parades would not roll in 2021, and the city put up fencing along many popular gathering spots to reduce crowds ahead of the Carnival season. It was the first time in 42 years that parades would not roll in the city, and, aided by freezing temperatures, the holiday was largely confined to house floats and private parties.
On Thursday, Cantrell said the Halloween-themed Krewe of BOO! float parade she recently approved to roll on Oct. 23, will test the city’s ability to stage a Carnival-style parade while still suppressing the spread of COVID-19. The city has stipulated that all participants in the Krewe of BOO! must either show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for the coronavirus.
“It’s a great opportunity to kick off our guidelines,” Cantrell said, noting the goal was to establish “measures we can live with, and, at the end of the day, live after.”
Jennifer Avegno, the director of the city's Department of Health, will monitor participants in the Krewe of Boo! in the weeks after the parade, and will survey the crowd to determine the safety of conducting parades in February and March 2022.
In August, Cantrell gave the parade-deprived city reason for optimism when she called on krewe captains to encourage their membership to vaccinate as a first step to safe parading in the future.
At Thursday’s meeting, both Cantrell and Avegno noted that New Orleans’ high vaccination rate and citizens' willingness to abide by COVID protocols point to the possibility of Carnival parades. The availability of vaccine boosters and the advent of COVID vaccines for children should also help clear the path for parades.
But both women emphasized that the conditions relative to the coronavirus and its spread months from now are hard to predict.
Cantrell pointed out that part of the challenge of controlling the spread of the virus during Carnival is that the event draws crowds of visitors from far beyond the city limits. Perhaps, she said, the city would impose COVID protocols on tourists.
“Whether that is showing proof of vaccination and/or a negative test when you come to the city of New Orleans, that’s something that I’m thinking about,” she said, “because we’re opening ourselves up to the world.”
The mayor did not elaborate further on that concept.
Cantrell also mentioned that one of the challenges the city currently faces is a workforce shortage that could impact Carnival, including refuse removal.
Carnival took place as usual in 2020, but it probably shouldn’t have. In retrospect, health officials recognized that the big party had probably helped spread the COVID-19 virus, which had only recently arrived in the United States. The explosion of the illness across the country prompted Cantrell to cancel parading during the 2021 Mardi Gras season.