In what’s believed to be a first for the National Football League, the New Orleans Saints announced that either proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR test within the prior 72 hours will be required to attend home games this season.
The policy is part of a sweeping citywide policy meant to encourage vaccinations and reduce the spread of COVID-19. According to ESPN, the mandate from New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell includes fans being required to wear masks inside the Caesars Superdome when not eating and drinking. However, the mandate won’t restrict the number of fans who gather in the stadium.
“We are not limiting capacity. We’ve got to get our people vaccinated,” said Cantrell, citing rising COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations throughout the state of Louisiana as the rationale for the mandate.
While it’s believed to be the first mandate of its kind affecting NFL games, set to commence with an Aug. 23 preseason matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the policy extends well beyond the city’s beloved football team and into the businesses that make up the core of its robust tourist economy.
CNN reported that the new rule will apply to those who want to visit bars, restaurants, breweries, gyms, fitness centers, and sports complexes and stadiums, which also will include the Smoothie King Center where the New Orleans Pelicans of the NBA play their games.
According to that story, “Cantrell instituted a mask mandate in indoor settings and large outdoor crowds in New Orleans for everyone regardless of vaccination status. At the time, she said emergency medical responders were hit so hard with a spike in COVID-19 cases that they didn’t have the capacity to handle 911 calls.”
With 2,901 people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide as of Aug. 12, Cantrell sees her policy as a way to mitigate those numbers without forcing businesses to shut down and gatherings to cease.
“The situation is dire, and we are simply out of time,” Eater quoted Mayor Cantrell as saying, in its story focusing on the indoor dining aspects of the new policy. “It is overtaxing our healthcare resources, our hospitals, and our first responders. Our people are at the brink. We have to take action now to protect our people and to protect our economy. And so, here we are again today.”
New Orleans is just the third city in the country to establish a vaccine mandate, according to Eater, joining New York City and San Francisco, though neither of those cities allows a negative test in lieu of proof of vaccination, as the Crescent City will.
“We are committed to doing everything we can in the current environment to protect your health and safety while at the same time providing the best game day experience in the NFL,” the Saints said in a statement regarding the policy.
“We understand some will be frustrated, as are we, that we find ourselves in this position. We, as a community, have overcome so much in our history and come back stronger every time. Together, we can defeat this virus and return to living, celebrating and winning in the way we always have. We need you in that number — both on game day and in defeating this virus.”