Mardi Gras Returning in New Orleans This Year, But There’s a Catch

by Josh Lanier

There are few celebrations like Mardi Gras. The beads. The bands. The Hurricane cocktails. It’s one of the most iconic cultural festivals in the country. Last year, all that stayed packed away as the coronavirus forced New Orleans leaders to cancel most events. Festivities resumed his year and culminate in the biggest bash on Fat Tuesday, March 1. But enjoying the Big Easy won’t be as easy this year for some.

You must be vaccinated if you want to join the more than 1 million people who flock to New Orleans for Carnival events every year. If you don’t want to get the jabs or can’t get them in time, you can bring a negative COVID-19 test from the previous 72 hours, Fox News reported. These rules apply to anyone over the age of 5. Local leaders said they will set up several rapid testing sites and vaccination locations across the city to accommodate the influx of tourists.

You’ll also need to wear a face mask for all indoor events unless you’re actively eating or drinking. New Orleans requires face coverings at some large outdoor events as well, according to the city’s website.

“That’s the way we are going to get through this safely,” said city spokesperson Beau Tidwell last year when announcing the measures.

New Orleans Bars, Restaurants Feel the Pain

However, the city won’t be enforcing these rules, by and large. That job will fall to hostesses, restauranteurs, and bartenders who must verify patrons’ vaccination or COVID-19 testing status. That puts some struggling businesses on the front lines.

“It does slow up our hostess stand, and it gets tense at times. We make an effort to greet customers and make them feel welcome. We have not had any complaints so far — including parents with kids,” said Stella Chase, manager of the Dooky Chase restaurant. “(The restaurant hasn’t) really had a problem with it, but there is still some hesitancy especially at a time when we finally have tourists coming back. We try to help but I’ve had to send tourists away to outlying areas where there is no mandate.” 

Mardi Gras generates about $1 billion in revenue for New Orleans. The city’s hospitality industry will make most of that cash. That deluge of tourists put the city in a “uniquely vulnerable” position for a coronavirus outbreak, New Orleans Health Department Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno told PBS Newshour.

“If you are unvaccinated or don’t like wearing masks, there is going to be very little for you to do here,” she said. “Whether it’s going to restaurants, bars, or concerts, [or] any higher risk activity, you will be unable to if you are not vaccinated. If you’re choosing to not protect yourself and to disregard the safety and health of the workers in the community that you’re coming to, then this is probably not the trip for you to take this year.”