With bars closed, parades cancelled and crowds restricted, New Orleans' annual citywide celebrations for Mardi Gras are looking very different this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Mardi Gras, French for "Fat Tuesday," always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the six-week-long season of Lent leading up to Easter. While Lent -- a time of reflection -- is typically observed by fasting from both food and festivities, Mardi Gras is usually marked by feasting and lavish celebration, thus its name. Mardi Gras revelries take place around the world each year, with some of the largest and perhaps most well-known in predominately Catholic New Orleans.
Last year's Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans are now thought to have contributed to a surge in COVID-19 infections that made Louisiana a hot spot in the United States. In an effort to prevent the virus' spread this year, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has issued temporary restrictions for Mardi Gras in addition to the current measures already in place.
The Mardi Gras restrictions went into effect last Friday and will remain in place until Wednesday at 6 a.m.
All bars citywide are shuttered for the five-day period, including those that have temporary licenses to operate as restaurants. The New Orleans Police Department has warned that any businesses found to be in violation of that order "will be closed on the spot."
While restaurants in the Big Easy will remain open and can serve alcohol, all establishments citywide are prohibited from selling to-go alcoholic beverages during this period. The sale of packaged alcohol is also barred within the city's historic French Quarter and lively Central Business District neighborhoods. All activities on public rights of way that may tend to encourage people to congregate, including busking, street performing and street vending, are banned as well.
Jackson Square, Armstrong Park, Woldenberg Park, Washington Square Park are all closed through Tuesday. Audubon Riverview Park is shut through Wednesday.
Each night during the five-day period, the New Orleans Police Department will limit vehicle traffic entering the French Quarter to residents, employees, hotel guests, taxis, restaurant patrons and retail customers. There will also be limited access to Bourbon, Frenchman and Decatur Streets, with no loitering allowed. Popular sections of those three streets will be closed during the evening and early morning hours throughout the five-day period. Bourbon Street, between Canal Street and Dumaine Street, will also be shut down from 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day, to 3 a.m. on Wednesday.
Large gatherings are not allowed under the city's current COVID-19 restrictions. That means all parades, balls and other gatherings are prohibited during this year's Mardi Gras revelries. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 individuals while outdoor gatherings are limited to 25. In each case, everyone must wear face masks and maintain distances.
The New Orleans Police Department will be "all hands on deck" throughout the five-day period, patrolling the city for those who are in violation of the mandates, according to police chief Shaun Ferguson.
"With the assistance of our law enforcement partners at the Louisiana State Police and the Orleans Parish Sheriff Office, we have a plan that will help us have a scaled back and safe Mardi Gras," Ferguson said during a press conference last Friday. "When we hear of a large crowd reported, with the additional resources of our law enforcement partners at our disposal, we will be able to flex our deployment and deal with those crowds as they gather -- not just on Bourbon Street, but anywhere in the city."
Although many of the traditional and notoriously raucous revelries are barred due to COVID-19, New Orleanians are finding other ways to celebrate, including organizing virtual parades and decorating houses to look like parade floats.
People can also buy tickets to drive by an array of iconic floats stationed at New Orleans' City Park. Attendees are encouraged to wear Mardi Gras costumes and decorate their cars.
The Louisiana Department of Health has confirmed more than 419,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including at least 9,292 deaths. More than 26,000 of those cases and at least 699 of those deaths were in Orleans Parish, according to the latest data posted on the Louisiana Department of Health's website.