If you ask a New Orleanian who Mardi Gras is for, they’ll likely paint you some version of a timeless picture: Locals and tourists standing shoulder to shoulder watching a parade roll by, competing for throws and drinking beers from the same cooler.
Each year a growing number of people mob the streets at the peak of Carnival season. Last year’s festivities drew more than a million visitors, and a recent study found the gatherings resulted in nearly 50,000 coronavirus infections.
To prevent another surge in cases, the city restricted this year’s celebrations, first by prohibiting parades and large gatherings and later by closing bars and entire streets. To set a good example, many krewes have taken the year off completely.
But that hasn’t stopped people from visiting — because Mardi Gras isn’t actually canceled.
The official line from the city has been that the holiday is “not canceled,” “just different” and Mayor LaToya Cantrell has actively welcomed visitors. At the same time, the city has instructed locals to celebrate the season at home with their immediate families.
Many see the city’s messaging as evidence of dangerous deference to tourists. This tension predates the pandemic and isn’t unique to Mardi Gras, but the collision of the two in 2021 has raised the stakes and an outcry.
Will Sutton, a native New Orleanian and columnist with The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate said the city has already lost too many people to COVID-19 and needs to do everything in its power to prevent further deaths. Welcoming visitors during Mardi Gras means taking on added risk.
“I understand that we’re trying to balance things for the good of the economy and public safety,’ he said,” but we don’t have a good economy without people.”