Crowds are usually welcome and even encouraged in tourist-dependent New Orleans in the days leading up to Mardi Gras but as the final weekend of the 2021 season began Friday, police warned that crowds won't be tolerated amid efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Police chief Shaun Ferguson held a news conference with state police and the New Orleans sheriff to drive home the point, saying a bar closure order that took effect Friday would be enforced through Fat Tuesday, the end of the annual pre-Lenten festivities.
All parades in the city have been canceled.
Mardi Gras celebrations last year are now believed to have contributed to an early surge of infections in Louisiana.
The city said Bourbon Street would be closed to cars and pedestrians from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. each day, with access limited to residents, business employees, hotel guests and restaurant patrons. On Mardi Gras itself, the closure will begin at 7 a.m., Ferguson said.
Restaurant capacity will be limited as it has been throughout the pandemic. And bars, including those that have temporary food permits enabling them to operate as restaurants, will be closed — not just in the French Quarter but throughout the city — until Ash Wednesday.
Other popular entertainment areas, including Decatur Street in the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street in the nearby Marigny neighborhood were to be shut down during what are normally peak hours. And a popular corridor outside the French Quarter that is a gathering spot for locals was being put off limits with fencing.
Ferguson said police will be on the lookout throughout the city for violators of the bar shutdown.
“If you think you're going to be that bad actor and get away with that, I would ask that you think otherwise,” Ferguson said.