Mardi Gras, an annual New Orleans event that typically draws more than a million people, will feel a lot different in 2021. Slated to occur on Feb. 16, Mardi Gras is reportedly “not cancelled, just different” due to surging coronavirus cases.
Mardi Gras cannot be canceled because it is a Christian holiday, according to the City of New Orleans’ official website. The celebration is also known as Carnival or “Fat Tuesday,” and marks the day before the religious season of Lent begins. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, Mardi Gras will be forced to undergo major change. “Mardi Gras … [is] a season of traditions that we celebrate every year, a time that the community comes together in formal, fun, and often unexpected ways,” a statement from the mayor’s office reads. “With COVID-19 cases increasing around the country, we will have to modify how to observe [Carnival] season to be safe for everyone. We are surrounded by hot spots and we don’t know what the future holds in store for us.”
One major change to the yearly celebration includes the cancellation of all parades, because “large gatherings have proven to be super spreader events of the COVID-19 virus.”
On Nov. 24, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that Louisiana will revert back into a revised Phase 2, with restrictions on some higher-risk operations. These restrictions include lower capacity limits and smaller gathering sizes.
According to New Orleans’ recently updated guidelines, there have been “over 100 cases per day for over 30 days and a transmission rate over 1.0 for the last 60 days.” New Orleans had a positivity rate of over 5% for two weeks in a row as of December 30, 2020, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. These numbers have prompted officials to require indoor operations to close, and to limit outdoor social gatherings to 25% occupancy up to 150 people.
Other revisions to the festivities are largely based on strict pandemic protocol at the local level. Ball organizers may still hold events as long as they comply with all the COVID-19 requirements and limit their attendance to invite-only, but the list of parade and ball cancellations for Mobile, Alabama and for New Orleans grows longer every day. Bourbon Street and Frenchman Street entertainment districts in New Orleans will reportedly be open for Mardi Gras but will be subject to local and statewide COVID-19 guidelines. Visitors may be required to wear a mask in public and maintain strict social distancing of 6 feet or more.
At the onset of the pandemic, state officials confirmed the Mardi Gras celebration held in early 2020 may have been a coronavirus superspreader event. As of Jan. 15, 2021, Louisiana had suffered 361,148 cases and 8,080 deaths.
The state has already received a limited supply of the coronavirus vaccine, but it is currently only available to people over the age of 70, home health patients and staff, ambulatory and outpatient care personnel, and people being treated for end stage renal disease, according to the state’s Department of Health.