NEW ORLEANS - Will Carnival parades rumble down St. Charles Avenue and elsewhere in 2022? That question is still unanswered. But at a meeting on Thursday afternoon, where Mayor Latoya Cantrell and New Orleans Department of Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno will address krewe captains, we should learn more.
During Thursday’s 5 p.m. meeting at the Basin Street Station visitors center, the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Committee, which is made up of parade krewe leaders, is prepared to offer the administration formal counsel about Carnival 2022. The final decision rests with Cantrell, who has shared her hope that the big party is possible next year, but has also vowed that it only take place under COVID-conscious conditions.
“Nothing is more important to me than the health and safety of all of our citizens and the visitors whom we welcome each year with open arms,” she wrote in an August missive to krewe captains.
The stakes are high. Carnival 2020, which took place soon after the arrival of the COVID-19 virus in the United States, unwittingly became a so-called super-spreader event. The explosion of the illness across the city and country that year forced Cantrell to cancel parading during the 2021 Mardi Gras season. Since then, Carnival devotees have nibbled their fingernails as they await City Hall’s decision to give the thumbs up or thumbs down to parades in 2022.
In August, Cantrell provided the parade-starved city reason for hope when she called on krewe captains to encourage their membership to get vaccinated against the deadly illness as a step toward safe parading in the future. In late September, Cantrell seemingly set the city on the path to normalcy when she announced that the Halloween-themed Krewe of BOO!, a Carnival-style float parade, would be permitted to ply the city streets on Oct. 23. The mayor’s announcement suggested that the safe conduct of the Krewe of BOO! might be a harbinger of a return to Carnival in February.
Since parades require elaborate advance planning, time is of the essence. “We are getting close to the time of year when planning and spending for the upcoming parading season hits a critical point,” wrote the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Committee co-chairmen Zulu president Elroy James and Rex spokesperson James Reiss III in a September letter to krewes.
Kern Studios owner Barry Kern produces floats for a dozen of New Orleans’ 34 float parades, including behemoths such as Iris, Endymion, Bacchus and Muses. Kern said that the sooner krewes know if parades will be permitted in 2020 the better. But, he said, he's confident most of the floats are already decorated and ready to roll at short notice whenever they’re given the green light.
The Muses parade may be an exception, Kern said, since the krewe’s topical themes are best finished at the last minute, but that’s normal.
Kern said that the krewes he deals with are planning to parade in 2022 until told otherwise. “We’re having it, until we’re not having it,” he said of the next Carnival. If the mayor were to wait until after the Krewe of BOO! Halloween parade on Oct. 23, that would be plenty of time to prepare for the Carnival parade season 2022 that begins in mid-February, Kern said. In his opinion, time could slip by even further.
“You could wait until a month out,” he said.