As COVID-19 testing techniques expand, NOLA's bars, casinos prepare to reopen
NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) — New Orleans will let the good times roll in casinos and bars again beginning Saturday, with restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Tuesday.
The city was once a major hot spot for the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and that led to the closure of entertainment venues.
But the city began easing restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in May. On a Tuesday radio broadcast, Cantrel outlined plans to lift more restrictions this weekend.
That means bars and casinos in the city can open — although only at 25 percent capacity, Cantrell said during a “Town Hall” broadcast on WBOK. Food-serving establishments, churches and movie theaters, which are already allowed to open at 25 percent capacity, can move to 50 percent capacity in the city beginning Saturday, although churches and movie theaters will have a cap of 250 people.
Gatherings of 100 will be allowed for weddings and funerals, Cantrell said. And tattoo parlors will be allowed to open.
However, another New Orleans cultural touchstone — live music in bars and music halls — will remain off limits. And churches will have to meet without choirs. City health director Jennifer Avegno explained that exhaling one’s breath during singing could help spread the virus.
Also remaining off limits for now: Festivals, fairs, amusement parks and arcades.
Cantrell said officials feel comfortable easing restrictions as the city has intensified testing and “contact tracing,” while the number of new cases has been declining.
One caller to the radio show, who identified himself as a Bourbon Street musician, was critical of the continued ban on live music. “I basically would plead with you Madam Mayor,” he said, saying he’s been unable to collect unemployment benefits.
“I don’t know how to support my family.”
Cantrell said the city’s restrictions on music are based on sound health considerations and are in line with the state’s.
Gov. John Bel Edwards had imposed numerous restrictions statewide as Louisiana became a major area of coronavirus infection. In recent weeks, the state has allowed more openings, moving to what is called Phase 2 of restrictions this past weekend. The city, an epicenter of COVID-19 in the early spring, has lagged the state. For instance, the city had kept casinos closed even as the state allowed them to open.
Cantrell’s announcement came after the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said Louisiana’s five veterans cemeteries have resumed conducting burial services that had been suspended because of the outbreak.
Seating will be limited in the shelter where the memorial services take place, and individuals from different households will be required to remain distanced from each other. Face coverings will be required.
Services had been temporarily halted starting March 17.
More than 43,000 cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus have been confirmed in Louisiana, according to the state health department, and 2,844 people have died. The state says nearly 34,000 people have recovered from COVID-19.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks.
But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.
Louisiana State University scientists will be testing sewage for genetic traces of the novel coronavirus in Baton Rouge.
The technique is being used in many places. But while most sewage systems use gravity to bring sewage to a central plant, flat cities like New Orleans and Baton Rouge must use pumping stations. Since Baton Rouge has more than 500 pumping stations, “we can get precise with our sampling,” environmental engineering professor John Pardue said in a news release Tuesday from LSU.
Tulane University said a $1 million donation from Colorado cookbook author Elana Amsterdam and her husband, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, will let it more than triple its ability to test for COVID-19. Equipment bought with the money will enable 1,000 tests a day, up from 300, a news release said Monday.
Tulane said its lab ran about 3,000 tests from April 1 until mid-May. Those included almost 1,400 from Orleans Parish Prison, 300 from a clinic set up in the Morial Convention Center and 600 from patients of state mental health facilities.
Amsterdam and Katz are parents of a student at Tulane, university spokesman Keith Brannon said.