New Orleans eases COVID-19 restrictions, Tulane remains cautious

Amy Nankin, News Editor

New Orleans entered Phase Three of its comprehensive COVID-19 plan established by Mayor LaToya Cantrell Oct. 3. Phase Three has three parts: Phase 3.1 began Oct. 3, Phase 3.2 is expected to begin Oct. 16 and Phase 3.3 is expected by Oct. 31. With easing restrictions outside of Tulane University’s campus, Tulane administrators have said they are closely monitoring COVID-19 case levels and on-campus restrictions to ensure student safety. 

Phase Three in New Orleans prioritizes increasing the capacity for low-risk activities such as outdoor, timed and seated events. Phase 3.1 increased restaurant capacity, allowed bars to sell to-go drinks, increased business capacity and increased indoor and outdoor gathering size limits. Phase 3.2 allows outdoor bar capacity, increases capacity limits on timed and seated events and increases outdoor capacity limit for events. Phase 3.3 further increases the capacities and size limits of gatherings. 

The COVID-19 restrictions set by the Tulane administration have not been altered to match the easing of restrictions in the city. Students are still held to the same gathering restrictions of a maximum of 15 people for private, personal gatherings indoor or outdoor, a maximum of 25 people for indoor registered student organization events and a maximum of 50 students for outdoor registered student organization events. Mask mandates and social distancing remain in effect.

“At this time, Tulane is not adjusting the expectations for students or organizations regarding gathering sizes but, as stated above we are constantly evaluating our current COVID-19 restrictions and are willing to make adjustments as soon we feel we can safely do so,” Director of Public Relations Mike Strecker said. “Tulane students are held to the standards put in place for our community both on and off campus.  These restrictions are more conservative than the City of New Orleans standards, so by complying with our standards students will automatically be compliant with the city’s standards.”

Tulane is currently experiencing a seven-day average percent testing positive of 0.7%, New Orleans is experiencing 1.2% and the state of Louisiana is experiencing 3.3% according to Tulane’s COVID-19 dashboard. Roughly 1% of all COVID-19 tests reported in New Orleans over the past two weeks were positive, the lowest positivity rate in the state, but New Orleans still has the strictest restrictions in Louisiana. The city is taking a very gradual approach in easing restrictions to closely monitor how the easing of restrictions affects the amount of cases, as is Tulane. 

For instance, for Homecoming this weekend we are allowing the band and spirit squads to be present in the stands.” Strecker said. “We made this change in consultation with city and state health officials who have informed all of our COVID-19 safety protocols. While many universities around the country have had to return to full remote learning after welcoming students back to campus, Tulane has been one of the few schools that has been able to continue in-person classes while maintaining a positivity rate lower than the city or state’s. This is due in large part to the amazing cooperation of our students, faculty and staff in adhering to our COVID safety protocols. We are cautious of not moving too swiftly in loosening restrictions which could result in a reversal of all our gains.”

Tulane is currently in the “orange” zone in terms of on-campus cases. The color-coded action alert levels serve to notify the Tulane community of current health and safety conditions with green, yellow, orange and red levels to describe the level of COVID-19 on campus and in the surrounding New Orleans area. 

The orange level means that there are “multiple positive cases in the Tulane community and/or New Orleans numbers continue to increase.” Students are encouraged to continue all green- and yellow-level actions like social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands often and limiting the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings. In the orange level, there are twice daily COVID-19 symptom self checks for all students, faculty and staff, an increase of disinfection and cleaning of campus facilities, consideration for increasing restrictions for student activities, and students are encouraged to limit unnecessary interactions. 

Although the rest of the city is phasing into a less restrictive environment, students are still encouraged to limit unnecessary activities, like going to the places that are beginning to reopen. 

Dean of Students Erica Woodley sent an email out to the Tulane community alerting them of student conduct concerns Oct. 14, based on students engaging in more activities over the weekend as the city reopens. She said there have been incidences of decreasing compliances with mask mandates off campus and more students gathering in groups of more than 15.

Over the weekend, we received many reports of really egregious misconduct related to COVID-19 safety protocols,” Woodley said. “Reports included everything from house parties and partying in the French Quarter and on Tchoupitoulas to neighbors reporting that students are not wearing masks off campus.We are over halfway through the semester and with everyone’s cooperation and adherence to the rules, we can safely navigate the rest of the fall 2020 semester.” 

Courtesy of ready.nola.gov