New Orleans to require proof of vaccination or negative test to enter restaurants, bars, indoor events

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FILE – In this Nov. 5, 2019, file photo, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell speaks at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly built main terminal of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Kenner, La. Cantrell announced Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, that people who want to go into bars, restaurants, gyms, music halls or other indoor venues in New Orleans will soon have to show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus or a recent negative test. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — People who want to enter New Orleans bars, restaurants, music halls — or any other inside venue — will soon have to show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus or a recent negative test, according to new rules announced Thursday by the mayor amid a surge in virus cases.

Louisiana has become a hot spot for the fourth surge in the pandemic, driven by both low vaccination rates across the state and the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. While New Orleans’ residents are getting vaccinated at slightly higher rates than the U.S. as a whole, the vaccination rate for the entire state is one of the worst in the country.

“Look for your vaccination card and be prepared to show it,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at an afternoon news conference. She said the requirement begins Monday, although there will be a one-week grace period before the city begins aggressive enforcement.

Cantrell stressed that she is not imposing capacity limits on businesses or contemplating a shutdown similar to the one that devastated businesses in 2020. “Unlike this time last year, we have a tool that we did not have,” she said, referring to vaccines.

Venues falling under the new rule include the Superdome, where a new NFL season begins soon.

On July 30, Cantrell implemented a mandate requiring that people wear masks indoors, and Gov. John Bel Edwards later put one in place across the state. State, city and hospital officials have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, stressing that nearly all of those in the hospital are not vaccinated. Cantrell said Thursday that most of the people hospitalized in New Orleans with COVID-19 are from outside the city.

Jennifer Avegno, the city’s top health official, implored people not to create fake vaccination cards, noting that the FBI has already arrested people who did so. Avegno, an emergency room doctor who often wears scrubs when she speaks at news conferences, spoke emotionally when asked about whether the measures announced Thursday are drastic.

“What’s drastic is where we are right now,” she said. “What’s drastic is that a patient who has a heart attack has to travel two hours to find a hospital. … What’s drastic is a 2-week-old hospitalized or a 12-year-old who could have been vaccinated on a ventilator,” she said. “Having a piece of paper, or having something on your phone … That’s not drastic.”

Many restaurants, bars and coffee shops in New Orleans have already put in place their own requirement that patrons either show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours. And the city is already requiring that workers and contractors get vaccinated.

Other U.S. cities are taking similar steps to curb the nation’s fourth coronavirus surge.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced Thursday that the city will require proof of full vaccination against coronavirus for indoor sites, including restaurants, bars and gyms. New York’s mayor last week said the city will require proof of at least one shot for indoor activities.

About 60% of New Orleans’ population has had at least one dose of the vaccine, while 53% have been fully vaccinated. For the state as a whole, the rates are 45% and 38%, respectively.

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