The season of cautious euphoria begins in New Orleans

by Kevin McGill | The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Vaccinated, masked and dressed New Orleans residents started the carnival season on Thursday with a rolling party plan on the city’s historic streetcar line, an annual march honoring Joan of Arc in the French Quarter and a mass, careful Keeping an eye on coronavirus statistics

Carnival officially begins each year on January 6 – the 12th day after Christmas – and, usually, comes to a raucous climax on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which this year falls on March 1. Thursday’s planned celebrations come two years after what became a successful Mardi Gras, which officials later realized was an early Southern superspreader of COVID-19; And nearly a year after city officials canceled the 2021 parade.

This year, the party is on despite the rapidly rising COVID-19 cases powered by the Omron edition.

“Without a doubt, we will have Mardi Gras 2022,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during the kickoff event on Thursday morning, where participants long removed protective masks to sample slices of king cake, a seasonal delicacy.

“A Mardi Gras, and a successful and healthy Mardi Gras, is as important to the mental health of the region as it is to the economic health of this city,” said James Rees, an official at the Rex Organization, 150 years old. -Old carnival group.

Still, in a season known for excesses, the virus prompted restraint. At Bywater Bakery, owner Shadow Conrad usually holds a day-long block party with live music to mark the start of carnival season. After a “virtual” recorded concert last year, she planned to return to the big block party on Thursday. But after several of her employees got sick over Christmas, she canceled the extravaganza. Instead, a piano player played on a flatbed truck as customers cut the king cake.

“I don’t need the musicians getting sick. I don’t need my clients getting sick and I don’t need half my staff getting sick,” Conrad said. “We’ll have the big block party when it dies.”

In what has become a traditional kickoff for the season, a group known as the Funny Forty Fellows were to board one of the historic St. Charles Line streetcars with a small brass band on Thursday night. Vaccinations and protective masks were required and streetcar seating was to be limited.

Bigger, more lavish parades will follow as Mardi Gras approaches in February.

“It was definitely the right thing to cancel last year,” Dr. Susan Hassig, a Tulane University epidemiologist who is also a member of the Moose’s crew and rides on a giant float in the Moose Parade every year. “We didn’t have vaccines. Everywhere there was raging and very serious disease.”

Now, she notes, vaccination rates are higher in New Orleans, where, according to city statistics, 81% of all adults are fully vaccinated.

And while out-of-town people are a big part of the Mardi Gras crowd, Cantrell’s anti-virus measures include proof of vaccination or a negative test for most places.

Sharing Hassig’s cautious optimism is Elroy James, president of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a predominantly black organization whose Mardi Gras morning parade is the carnival’s highlight. At the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 was blamed for the deaths of at least 17 Zulu members.

“I think most of the crew, especially, I know, for Zulu, we’re all very proactive with respect to safety protocols, leaning in,” James said on Wednesday. “Our float captain is confirming that our riders have been vaccinated. And face masks are part of the look of the 2022 Mardi Gras season.”

There are reasons for concern in a state where the pandemic has killed more than 15,000 people in the past two years. Louisiana health officials reported 1,412 hospitalizations as of Wednesday — fewer than 200 in mid-December.

Asked whether Carnival crews should make contingency plans for their balls in case of future restrictions, Governor John Bel Edwards said he does not currently plan to ban gatherings. But he said people should be careful about spending time with large groups of people without mask.

“Does this apply to the Mardi Gras ball? I think it’s pretty clear that it does,” Edwards said.