NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans will this week allow bars to operate at 25% of their indoor capacity as it further eases restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Monday.
Other changes include an increase in the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings from 50 to 100. At outdoor gatherings, the limit goes from 100 to 150.
The new “Phase 3.3” restrictions take effect Wednesday. They bring the city close to eased restrictions imposed by the state, although the state allows larger gatherings for indoor and outdoor events.
The city eased restrictions and let bars open for a time earlier this year, only to shut them down again amid a second surge of the coronavirus. Since then, the city has incrementally eased restrictions — for example allowing outdoor seating at bars, allowing take out alcoholic beverages and allowing bars that operate as restaurants to have limited indoor service.
Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the city health director, said the city is in a position to further ease restrictions this week because New Orleans has so far avoided the latest resurgence of cases that has occurred in much of the nation. “We’re an outlier,” she said. “We are a good outlier and we want to remain it.”
She said there has been a recent spike in cases at local universities. She added that university officials have increased testing and are cooperating with city efforts to prevent more new cases. And she said the percentage of tests with positive results is expected to stay low.
Avegno said the city’s priority remains maintaining safety at schools. Public schools in the city have gradually increased in-school classes since mid-October and city officials have stressed that restrictions will be tightened if need be to protect that progress.
Officials also addressed the Monday announcement from Pfizer that early results from its coronavirus vaccine suggest it may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, putting the company on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Avegno said the city has been working with the state and others in preparation for distribution of a vaccine, which she noted is still likely months away. Once a vaccine is available to the general public, she said— noting that health care workers and vulnerable populations such as nursing home residents will get high priorities — distribution in the city will be similar in many ways to public testing, with efforts to make vaccinations available for many at drive-through and walk-up locations.
Cantrell announced the new restrictions after harshly criticizing organizers of a weekend religious music event in the French Quarter. She said organizers didn’t comply with city guidelines and the city is looking into possible legal action.
Avegno said she believes New Orleans has been able to avoid the spike in cases affecting other areas of the country in part because of warmer south Louisiana weather. “Mask wearing is the norm here,” she added. “And it has been for months. And that has saved countless lives and allowed businesses to open.”
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