New Orleans loosens COVID limits on gatherings, sports events; see new rules | Coronavirus

New Orleans will allow indoor gatherings of as many as 150 people, outdoor gatherings of 250 and bigger crowds at sports events under newly loosened coronavirus restrictions announced Wednesday. A restaurant industry leader said the changes don’t go far enough.

The changes, which take effect Friday, will let indoor sports venues operate at 25{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42} capacity and outdoor sports venues at 50{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42}. But City Hall is leaving in place other restrictions on businesses under New Orleans’ modified Phase Three coronavirus guidelines.

They come one day after Gov. John Bel Edwards eliminated capacity caps in the rest of Louisiana on bars, restaurants, fitness centers and other businesses. City officials said they didn’t fully align New Orleans with the state because of concerns about more contagious coronavirus variants that could affect the city, particularly as most residents have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“Concerns remain, especially considering the reversal of trends in several states, as well as the spread of stronger variants that are being detected in several cities in Louisiana,” City Hall said. “No additional changes to the New Orleans guidelines are being made at this time.”

The Louisiana Restaurant Association responded with a demand that New Orleans adopt the same, more permissive rules as the state. 

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“Our hospitality industry was asked to close, operate to-go, delivery or curbside, return to limited capacity and adapt to help flatten the curve and reduce the impact to our hospital capacity,” said Stan Harris, the group’s president and CEO. “It is now time to allow these businesses to enjoy the same approach to COVID mitigation our other 63 parishes in the State are allowed to follow.”  

The stricter approach that Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration took Wednesday is in keeping with her stance throughout the pandemic, precautions that the mayor has attributed to New Orleans’ experience as an early hotspot for the coronavirus. As a result, New Orleans has generally kept its rate of cases, positive tests and hospitalizations lower than other parishes since it led the state in the early weeks of the pandemic.

For the past eight weeks, each of those measures has declined. As of Wednesday, New Orleans was averaging 19 new cases per day and had a test positivity rate of 0.9{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42}. Meanwhile, 34{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42} of residents had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, while almost 20{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42} fully inoculated. 

Harris said those statistics should be reason enough for New Orleans to move more swiftly toward a full reopening. He said the reason New Orleans has done so well is that restaurants, bars and hotels have, by and large, played by the rules, though doing so has meant taking a serious financial hit.

Cantrell’s administration said it had no comment on Harris’ statement.    

The loosened restrictions precede Easter weekend and the end of Passover, holidays in which residents are likely to gather in small groups and at houses of worship. The new capacity limits will affect event venues, wedding and party planners and sports teams and their patrons. 

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