NEW ORLEANS — The city of New Orleans will likely not move into Phase 3.3 of reopening until next month, after Halloween, Mayor LaToya Cantrell told city council members during a Monday presentation of her administration's tentative budget, meaning that bars will not be open for dine-in service during the costumed holiday.
The move from Phase 3.2 to 3.3 would have allowed bars to open at 25% capacity among other incremental changes. The shift was initially scheduled to take place on Halloween, Oct. 31.
But during the budget meeting with the New Orleans City Council, Cantrell addressed the reopening issue in response to a question about how the city is projecting tourism traffic over the next year.
In the long term, New Orleans reopening will draw in more tourists, Cantrell said. But in the short term, that reopening will likely be pushed back, although she added that she hadn't made a final decision as of Monday morning.
"As I see it right now, we will probably push back the 3.3 start until after this weekend," she said.
New Orleans has enjoyed a relatively low positivity rate for COVID-19 even as other cities across the nation grapple with spikes in reported cases.
New Orleans' COVID-19 positivity rate has remained under 2% for a full week, and the positivity rate has only gone above that four times in October.
"But coupled with Halloween, coupled with how we are in our city and what we've been seeing, it seems it may be best for us to hold off 3.3 until the following week," Cantrell said.
When Phase 3.2 began earlier in October, crowds descended on the French Quarter for take-out drinks. City officials vowed stronger enforcement in response, threatening to cite businesses not complying with the city's guidelines and fine anybody not wearing a mask in public up to $500.
Cantrell's administration is hoping to avoid a repeat performance by pushing off the reopening of bars especially until after Halloween, which is generally a boozier holiday in the city.
"This week, following the weekend, we'll see where the numbers come in," she said. "We're still very, very hopeful that and optimistic that we will proceed without any levels of regression."
The mayor has been slower to reopen businesses than the rest of the state, and has consistently trailed Gov. John Bel Edwards in reopening plans.
New Orleans was originally a hotspot for coronavirus cases rivaling New York in cases per capita, but the shutdown appears to have largely succeeded in dropping COVID-19 transmission, even as schools and businesses reopen.
"We're one of the few cities to have our kids in school from pre-k through 12th grade," Cantrell said.