Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The Krewe of Bassackwards makes its way through a throng of parade goers during the 2014 Spanish Town Mardi Gras Parade on Saturday in Baton Rouge.

After Baton Rouge leaders met with a wide range of Mardi Gras organizers Friday, they made no decision about canceling parades as they wait for the governor to decide what to do when his coronavirus restrictions lapse next month.

Recent rises in new coronavirus cases across Louisiana and in Baton Rouge have thrown Mardi Gras planning deeper into flux. With less than three months to go, several organizers say they will soon need to decide whether to go forward with their plans.

Any local decision hinges almost entirely on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration. The current phase of restrictions ends on Dec. 4. and is likely to be renewed.

Louisiana has avoided a massive surge in cases compared to other areas of the country recently. But the White House Coronavirus Task Force this week still said in a report that the current restrictions are inadequate due to increases in infections.

The governor said Wednesday that he doesn’t plan to revert to a stay-at-home mandate that he issued at the start of the pandemic outbreak in March. But other restrictions might be necessary to stem infections.

“I’m crossing my fingers and my toes,” said Spanish Town Mardi Gras board president Robert King, who said he's still optimistic a parade will happen.

If the governor’s order is extended or reverts to a prior phase, King said he may have to call off the annual parade with no plans to reschedule it later in the year. Other events around Spanish Town could be a possibility.

Baton Rouge leaders have said much of the decision-making for holding large events centers on the level cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus.

“At this point, we do not know where we will be with COVID-19 come early February, but we must ensure we take the proper precautions to protect our community, our residents, and our economy,” Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said in a statement Friday.

The private virtual meeting Friday allowed groups and local leaders to bounce ideas on how parades and other events can proceed next year, which will likely need to be changed to balance public health during large public events.

The changes organizers floated to city leaders included extending parade routes, adding mask and hand sanitizer stations, and enforcing physical distancing. Another option would allow people to drive past stationary floats and collect throws at the end, an idea that was met with lukewarm responses.

Still, the uncertainty of what might be allowed, as well as the governor’s current mandate banning gathering of more than 250 people, has caused some Baton Rouge-area krewes to cancel their annual balls.

Two of the largest organizations were among those to pump the brakes on holding balls this week, including the Krewe of Spanish Town and the Krewe of Tucumcari.

Both organizations touched on concerns over attendance caps, dancing and live music at the River Center, as well as high costs for cleaning and screening guests.

“Sounds like footloose, doesn’t it?” King said jokingly.

Many organizations rely on parties and balls to fund operations, including parades. But, with attendance caps and high bills, some say they likely would have lost money by moving forward with annual balls.

Krewe of Artemis Captain Joanne Harvey said the women's group has still pushed forward with its preparations for a ball and parade — with backup plans to store costumes and other material so they’re ready for 2022 if they decide to cancel.

But if they aren’t able to produce the “full experience” to members, royalty and the community, Harvey said the krewe would likely tap the breaks until late 2021 for balls and 2022 for parades.

"I know this year's a different year, but I would rather preserve the integrity of what we've done for the community," she said. "I'd rather everyone stay safe and look forward to it next year than to compromise that."

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