Mayor Cantrell: “Social Distancing Is Not A Buzzword”

Photo Credit: Jenn Bentley, Big Easy Magazine

At a press conference on Sunday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and members of the New Orleans City Council continued to reiterate the importance of social distancing, as the number of presumptive positive cases in New Orleans reached 65, with two fatalities.

“Social distancing is not a buzzword,” Cantrell said. “It’s reality.”

Although for now New Orleans businesses will be allowed to continue operating as usual, Cantrell stated that she is discussing future plans with the city’s hospitality and tourism leaders, including the possibility of a citywide curfew. However, Cantrell could give no timeline for when additional measures would be put into place, reiterating that it is a process. The mayor did note that businesses who fail to take the severity of the COVID-19 spread seriously could lead to drastic action, including working with the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) to suspend or pull permits.

“Pulling permits, working with ATC, we’re working through that right now. If we’re not getting the responses we expect, we will ramp up enforcement and more aggressive measures,” Cantrell said.

The response comes after several large gatherings took place across the city on Saturday, including in the Irish Channel and on Bourbon Street. Though the NOPD attempted to break up large crowds on Magazine Street and on Bourbon Street, several live stream cameras showed party-goers returning shortly after law enforcement left the scene.

Several officials and city council members also condemned the actions of those who were in the crowds and thanked Super Sunday and Mardi Gras Indian leaders for ensuring the same did not happen on Sunday morning.

In addition to urging more strict adherence to social distancing protocols, Cantrell noted that city services have been limited due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the city. Recreational facilities, public libraries, and public schools have all been closed to the general public, although library employees will continue working in case the city needs the facilities for emergency services.  City Hall will remain open, but with limited access, and both employees and guests will have temperature checks at the door. Anyone with a temperature above 100 degrees will not be allowed inside.

Officials announced on Sunday that New Orleans was one of four US cities chosen to participate in a federal pilot program to develop and test drive-through testing centers for COVID-19. According to Cantrell, those conversations are in the early stages, but that the initial stages of testing will focus on first responders, including medical professionals, and the elderly.

Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist based in New Orleans specializing in politics and social justice issues. In 2019, she was given the title of “Most Fearless” by The Bayou Brief. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_

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