The New Orleans Saints won their preseason football game with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the more important win was the implementation of COVID-19 protocols requiring fans to show proof they have been vaccinated, or evidence that they tested negative for the virus within 72 hours before attending the game.
About 35,000 fans enjoyed watching Saints Coach Sean Payton put the team through its paces so everyone could see what might be possible this season. Each did what was required before going into the Caesars Superdome. Just shy of 100 people got vaccinated by Ochsner Hospital representatives on-site. Fans could choose the Pfizer vaccine or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Most chose the former, perhaps because the FDA had just granted that vaccine final approval.
After authorizing Pfizer to provide a vaccine to stem the violent COVID-19 pandemic last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted its full approval and endorsement of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for those who are ages 16 and older. Those ages 12-15 can continue getting the Pfizer vaccine under FDA’s emergency use provision. Just recently, a Pfizer booster was made available for those who are immunocompromised.
Thanks to the FDA, the Saints had a big test — and they passed.
All who entered showed they had been vaccinated or tested recently, and 99 chose the free vaccine jabs offered by Ochsner Health. The next day, LSU made its Tiger Stadium move, announcing that football fans would have to do the same as fans attending Saints games. Another big test for our state will come when the LSU Tigers take the field for the first home game, Sept. 11.
Vaccine and test mandates are picking up across the nation. New Orleans was a leader when Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced that residents and tourists entering bars and restaurants, gyms or sports stadiums, and several other venues must show they are vaccinated or COVID-free based on a recent test. It’s good that the event mandate push now includes LSU in Baton Rouge. We have local governments in 64 parishes. We have higher education institutions with football and other sports teams with fans. We have high schools across the state hoping for competitive sports games this fall. More fall events and festivals — indoors and outdoors — will be canceled if we don't bring down our case and hospitalization numbers and reduce the number of virus deaths.
That's not just an economic hit for New Orleans or Acadiana, because it delays tourism's comeback. Our fall sports, and festivals anytime, are part of our spirit.
America needs to move on, but no more so than Louisiana with its still-high rate of the unvaccinated. The U.S. military is moving toward mandates for all personnel. Ochsner Health just announced starting a mandate for its employees. The mandates give us a fighting chance to beat the pandemic. They give us hope, and a path forward.
If we're going to significantly slow then defeat the pandemic, it will be because we're more vigilant. We must choose to be more careful about where we go, what we do and with whom. We must politely ask who has been vaccinated and encourage our loved ones to get the jab. We must choose to mask and social distance. We must choose life over death.