The city of New Orleans is bringing back the indoor mask mandate starting Wednesday due to an increase in cases and hospitalizations due to the presence of the highly-transmissible omicron variant.
"At all indoor spaces, including schools, effective tomorrow (Wednesday, Jan. 12) at 6 a.m. and remaining in place until further notice," said Dr. Jennifer Avegno at the weekly city press briefing.
The mask mandate will require masks worn indoors unless in the process of dining at a restaurant. The mandate is in addition to the current requirement of vaccination proof or a negative COVID test to dine in the city's restaurants or frequent the city's bars.
Avegno made the announcement as she said the city is currently averaging about 1,233 new cases per day and that, she says, is only from public tests and doesn't count the at-home testing being done. She said that rate is 3 times higher than the city's previous high, which occurred in April 2020, following a surge likely created by Mardi Gras that year.
The city is currently finding a 31 percent positivity rate on the public tests.
The announcement also comes just five days after Mayor LaToya Cantrell said that Mardi Gras 2022 was definitely happening.
Avegno said the mask mandate and getting vaccinated and boosted is essential as the city hopes to have hundreds of thousands of visitors over the next few months for major events like Mardi Gras and festivals.
"Even if our cases begin to decline in the next week or two - and I believe that is likely - hospitalizations and deaths will lag, likely for at least the next month, and that's right up to the time that individuals from areas with lower vaccination rates and later omicron surges will be at our doorstep."
She also said that N95 masks would be made available on a widespread basis.
The New Orleans Health Department will be giving away N95 masks at the following locations Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Friday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., while supplies last:
- Main Library, 219 Loyola Ave.
- Algiers Regional Library, 3014 Holiday Drive
- East New Orleans Regional Library, 5641 Read Blvd.
- Milton H. Latter Memorial Library, 5120 St. Charles Ave.
- Robert E. Smith Library, 6301 Canal Blvd.
- Norman Mayer Library, 3001 Gentilly Blvd.
- Hubbell Library, 725 Pelican Ave.