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New Orleans bars work to reduce coronavirus spread but officials say they can be dangerous

Dr. Anthony Fauci said people meeting in a bar was bad news. "We've really got to stop that right now."

NEW ORLEANS — As the Fourth of July weekend begins, elected officials have warned the public that bars may be a dangerous place for the spread of coronavirus.

But some bars in New Orleans have been raising the bar on sanitation, hoping to stay open.

At Bar Tonique in the French Quarter, cocktails come with a heavy pour of COVID-19 control.

“Guests are only allowed to not wear the mask while seated,” said manager Mark Schettler. “But when you go to the bathroom, step up to the bar to order a drink, when you exit, your mask has to go back on. We’re enforcing it pretty strictly.”

The bar has a large hand sanitizer pump by the front door and plexiglass shields between bartenders and those sitting at the bar.

Their fine-tuned sanitation practices came with in-person consultations and guidance from medical students in the Tulane University Business Resilience and Community Education, or BRACE, program.

Bars in New Orleans are in a balancing act; hoping to get enough people in the door to stay open, but while obeying the city’s 25 percent capacity rules.

“Every week we’re just trying to make enough money that it wouldn’t have been cheaper to stay closed,” said Schettler.

Not every bar is taking sanitation seriously. “Bad actors,” as Schettler calls them, have been causing elected officials to move the microscope onto the bar industry.

Contact tracing has revealed several clusters of coronavirus cases related to bars, where social distancing can be hard to enforce.

“A congregation at a bar inside is bad news. We’ve really got to stop that right now, when you have areas that are surging like we see right now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said.

On Bourbon Street as the holiday weekend began, many, but not all, wore masks. Bars were keeping their doors open, and some posted signs encouraging to-go drinks and social distancing.

Others, like The Avenue Pub on St. Charles, will be closed for the holiday weekend. Owner Polly Watts told Eyewitness News that all of her staff members have stayed healthy and wear masks while inside the building.

However, the July Fourth weekend is typically slow for business, and it wasn’t worth the risk. They’ll reopen July 8th.

 At Elysian Bar in the Marigny, you’ll find tables tucked under a tent in the outside courtyard. Elysian Bar general manager Cody Warembourg also got help from the Tulane University BRACE program, even inviting them to dine and double check best practices.

“It was a bit overwhelming at first,” said Warembourg, who has implemented indoor traffic flow procedures as well as mask requirements indoors.“We have a sanitation station with hand sanitizer and wipes, and guests are free to use whatever they need.”

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