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A rider throws a pair of beads into the crowd during the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade, Saturday, February 22, 2020, in downtown Baton Rouge, La.

Local Mardi Gras celebrations may be "modified" in 2021 in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but after New Orleans officials disclosed Tuesday that parades won’t roll, any changes in store in the Baton Rouge area are still being hammered out.

Baton Rouge leaders have met with parade organizers and health officials while considering possible tweaks to events for the upcoming Carnival season, -- though it hasn’t been decided what changes are possible.

“At this point we have informed most of the parade organizers we are considering modified events in light of the pandemic to ensure we protect our economy and health,” the mayor’s office said in a statement Tuesday.

New Orleans officials said Tuesday that parades won't be allowed to roll next year, amid worries large gatherings could become catalysts for viral spread. City leaders there voiced concerns that the state is surrounded by hotspots and called for suggestions for alternatives.

Carnival event organizers in Baton Rouge have for weeks been stuck in limbo while they await word on what they’ll be allowed to do under state and local health measures.

Organizers for the Spanish Town parade tapped the brakes on any decisions until the governor’s current phase of restrictions, which includes crowd limits of 250 people, lapses on Dec. 4.

“I’m trying to be optimistic,” said Spanish Town Mardi Gras Board President Robert King. “It’s easier to back up than it is to speed up. If we have everything set, and people want to do it, we can pull the trigger on it.”

King added that he sees ways to have parades roll by having krewe members wear masks and requiring attendees to physically space out. If needed, he said the parade could still roll if given a little more than a month’s notice.

"I don't want people to have their hearts ripped out," he said.

Several krewes in the Baton Rouge area have been moving forward with their plans to hold balls and soirées in the coming months, despite the uncertainty of crowd limits and other logistical hurdles. Others have canceled annual events because too much in in flux.

Fat Tuesday is less than three months away, but preparations often begin immediately for the following year after Mardi Gras. Some parade organizers are moving forward with their plans as normal unless they’re told otherwise.

“We will be rolling in Plaquemine,” said Rhonda Harrell, Founder of the Krewe Comogo, which is planning to hold its parade on Feb. 14 after getting the green light from local leaders last week.

The parade will have a few tweaks though. Krewe members will be physically spaced on floats and wear surgical face-coverings underneath their more decorative masks, and attendees will be asked to stay physically distanced, Harrell said.

While anticipating a lower turnout than the 10,000 people who usually attend the annual event, Comogo also plans to shorten the parade by having fewer floats roll than in previous years.

City leaders in Port Allen say they’re waiting for Gov. John Bel Edwards to weigh in before deciding whether the city can hold its annual Mardi Gras parade.

State and local leaders in Baton Rouge have grown increasingly concerned following a steady rise in new cases of COVID-19. They have warned that new restrictions may be on the horizon if the virus continues to spread.

Those warnings came as huge swaths of the country have been hammered with record-breaking increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths recently. Louisiana has so far avoided that surge, but is beginning to show worrying signs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies large gatherings that draw people from outside of a community as the highest risk activities for spreading the virus. The agency also notes the level of infections in a community amplifies those risks, and state and local leaders should make decisions on event sizes.

While Baton Rouge hasn’t made a decision on whether it will allow parades during Carnival season, it has allowed foot races, trick or treating and limited in-person attendance at LSU football games.

Coronavirus numbers will be the ultimate deciding factor in whether events next year can happen, city leaders have said.


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad