I am an infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist in New Orleans. I have been on the front line of the COVID-19 response, treating those with COVID-19 and serving as a public health consultant. As many of my health care colleagues can attest to, 2020 was a challenging year and it appears that 2021 will follow in the 2020 footsteps.
Under the leadership of Mayor LaToya Cantrell and New Orleans’ health commissioner, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, we have been a COVID-19 success story. We had a very dramatic introduction to COVID-19 after last year’s Mardi Gras. This was without question a major super-spreading event. Of note: Cities worldwide that celebrate Carnival all had very similar dramatic increases in their COVID-19 cases.
Within this context, I was shocked to read the letter published by the CEO of New Orleans & Co., Stephen Perry, in response to Cantrell’s necessary closures surrounding Mardi Gras. In his tone-deaf letter, Perry is pleading with visitors to come to New Orleans, to “make those restaurant reservations,” and to “dress up in costume, and enjoy cocktails and wine in your favorite restaurant!” Perry portrays New Orleans as being open for business during Mardi Gras, and that visitors may “have more fun than ever!”
Aside from the obvious trolling of both “college students” and “locals (that) do dumb things,” Perry would have better used his platform to market New Orleans in a manner recognizing last year’s Mardi Gras was a super-spreading event, and we risk it again this year, only with a more contagious virus that will lead to more hospitalizations and ultimately more deaths.
Instead, Perry co-opted the real plights of hospitality workers and having to walk home late at night with their tips. This expression of compassion toward hospitality workers rings hollow, especially considering how New Orleans & Co. continue to propagate tourism in New Orleans that subjugates working-class people for the massive profits of the few.
In fact, Perry’s letter is openly declaring that New Orleans & Co. are more interested in putting profits before working-class New Orleans people, the ones disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Given Perry’s assessment that “We are not!” closed for Mardi Gras, creating a potential super-spreading event that may harm those that are the most vulnerable, I call for Perry’s immediate resignation.
DR. MARKALAIN DERY
infectious diseases physician, epidemiologist