Mardi Gras is official, city encourages vaccination

Martha Sanchez, Staff Reporter

COVID-19 spread undetected through Mardi Gras crowds two years ago, turning New Orleans into an epicenter in the early days of the pandemic.

Last week, the New Orleans City Council officially declared that Mardi Gras 2022 would occur, returning spirit and revelry to the city but prompting new questions of how to pull off one of the biggest parties in the country while COVID-19 is still a threat.

“I’m very hopeful,” Rien Fertel, a visiting assistant professor who teaches a class on the history of Mardi Gras, said.

Revelers enjoy the floats of the School of Design — the Krewe of Rex — in this undated photo. (Jean Beaufort)

The council decision is official, assuming there is no major change in case numbers. The city is urging vaccination for visitors and also will likely require krewe members to be vaccinated or test negative before riding floats, which they implemented in the recent Krewe of Boo parade. There still remain considerations at stake, such as how to participate in the festivities with an eye geared towards health and safety.

Masking is one precaution any individual can take.

“If the city is encouraging people to mask up on the parade route, I would hope to see more people masked up,” Fertel said.

New Orleans is also highly vaccinated, and its vaccination or negative test mandate will remain in effect for the duration of the two-month Carnival season next year.

Jennifer Avegno, the director of the New Orleans Health Department, urged vaccination and booster shots for those participating in Mardi Gras. She said people should wear masks indoors and limit contact with elderly or vulnerable people during Carnival season.

“We know much, much more about Covid than we did in February 2020,” she said.

Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology in the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, shared Avegno’s recommendations. She also shared that people should take these precautions into account even when they are not on the parade route to limit the overall spread of COVID-19.

Many Tulane undergraduate students will be first-time Mardi Gras participants in 2022. Non-local freshmen are always new to the holiday, but a cold and cancelled Mardi Gras in 2021 prevented current sophomores from engaging in Carnival too.

Hassig said Carnival season could be a good time for Tulane to reinstitute some form of COVID-19 testing or masking requirements.

“You can always mask and you can always test voluntarily,” she said.

There was no spike in case numbers, deaths or hospitalizations after the Krewe of Boo halloween parade. Hassig said there have been no noticeable COVID-19 issues with the thousands of people attending recent Saints football games. Other events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City will further test the ability to parade safely.

Two years ago, when Mardi Gras spread COVID-19 across New Orleans and beyond, its impact hit hardest on the city’s minority community. Black residents died from COVID-19 in far greater numbers than any other group.

Fertel said that Mardi Gras should not just be about celebration but also about respecting and helping each other, especially the vulnerable.

“[Mardi Gras] is a time where every New Orleanian is on the streets,” Fertel said. “So we got to recognize that and be responsible to our fellow citizens.”