By KEVIN McGILL, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Coronavirus-related limits on access to Bourbon Street, shuttered bars and frigid weather all were expected to prevent what the city usually craves at the end of Mardi Gras season — streets and businesses jam-packed with revelers.
Parades and parties on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and the days leading up to the annual pre-Lenten bash usually draw more than a million people to the streets.
But parades were canceled and Mayor LaToya Cantrell recently ordered bars closed. Even bars that had been allowed to operate as restaurants with “conditional” food permits were shuttered for five days that began Friday. Take-out drinks in “go-cups” also are forbidden — no more strolling the French Quarter with a drink in hand.
Bourbon Street was to be blocked to automobile and foot traffic at 7 a.m., with access limited to residents, business managers and employees, hotel guests and restaurant patrons.
Parades also were canceled this year in Mobile, Alabama, which boasts the nation’s oldest Mardi Gras celebrations. There was no plan to close bars there, but some streets were to be shut down Tuesday to control traffic and allow for more outdoor seating and service at restaurants and bars.
Alabama’s top state health official, Dr. Scott Harris, last week said he was worried that what celebrations do occur would lead to further spread of the virus even without traditional activities.
“There’s nothing magic about it being a parade format versus, you know, milling around in the street together without a parade format,” he said Friday. “I think both of those certainly have the potential for disease transmission, for sure.”
Anticipating the possibility that people will still come out to celebrate, Mobile is shutting down streets in a large part of its downtown to allow people room to spread out on Tuesday.
“We just hope people will do the right thing,” he said. “We are so close to being done with this.”
The Mobile County Health Department said inspectors will be out through Fat Tuesday to make sure that health codes are being followed. A statewide order requires face masks inside buildings and even outdoors when people can’t stay away from each other, but enforcement is rare and many ignore the rules.
Back in New Orleans, various estimates showed hotels were likely to be anywhere from one-third to more than half full — far below the 90%-plus bookings of most years. And city and state officials all but warned tourists away.
“If people think they’re going to come to Louisiana, anywhere, or New Orleans and engage in the kind of activities they would have pre-pandemic then they are mistaken and quite frankly they are not welcome here to do that,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a recent news conference.
Freezing or near-freezing temperatures were in the Tuesday forecast.
If the crowd control measures work, the scene will be in start contrast to Mardi Gras crowds last year that were later blamed for an early Louisiana outbreak of COVID-19.