NEW ORLEANS — Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Thursday that the city of New Orleans will loosen some coronavirus restrictions while keeping a parish-wide mask mandate until vaccination levels improve.
At a press conference, the mayor upped the maximum gathering size to 250 people indoors and 500 people outside. Businesses will also be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity starting Friday.
"A mask mandate will remain in the city of New Orleans," Cantrell said. "New Orleans is a safer place because of the guidelines we have had in place over the past year."
At a press conference celebrating the reopening of Canal Street near the Hard Rock collapse site Wednesday, Cantrell confirmed that full reopening would require the city to reach "herd immunity" from the coronavirus through vaccination.
"Everything we wish to do in our city, and opening back up our economy, is about getting vaccinated," she said.
Cantrell's comments are the most concrete threshold her administration has given for easing restrictions. In previous weeks, officials had been vague about what the city's criteria were for easing restrictions.
The 75% vaccination benchmark Cantrell laid out is still a long way away for New Orleans, which currently has about 35% of its population fully vaccinated.
But at Thursday's press conference, the city's health director, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, pointed to a caveat in that number that puts New Orleans in a better place than the number would suggest.
Discounting the number of children under 16 in the parish, Orleans Parish's population is about 45% fully vaccinated, with just under 54% having received at least one shot.
Even with those improved numbers, there is still a gap between where the city is and where officials say it needs to be.
"Just like in a marathon, it is that last mile that is most important and determines success," Avegno said.
The new regulations in the city come two days after Gov. John Bel Edwards ended the statewide mask mandate. That move left local governments in control of whether residents should wear masks.
The CDC earlier this week released guidance that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outside, but face coverings are still recommended even for those who have completed their vaccination series while indoors.
For weeks, as New Orleans' coronavirus numbers have improved, and vaccination rates in the city continued to outpace those of the state and much of the nation, Cantrell's administration has resisted pressure to budge from a modified Phase 3 restriction, which limits crowd sizes and bar operating times.
But more than a year after the Coronavirus was found in Louisiana for the first time, New Orleans is on its way back to something approaching pre-pandemic normal.
"With these changes, New Orleans will be the most open it has been since the pandemic began 14 months ago," Avegno said.