In announcing that she was closing her city’s bars for the final weekend of Carnival, Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans said she would "rather be accused of doing too much than doing too little."
It won’t be difficult to find people who think the mayor is doing too much. Start with the bar owners and workers who just lost their first chance for a big sales weekend in about a year.
The mayor will shut down all of the bars in New Orleans from Friday to Ash Wednesday. That includes the many bars that have received conditional use permits to operate as restaurants during the pandemic.
Liquor sales will be banned in the French Quarter.
The mayor is also closing Bourbon Street to vehicles and pedestrians, and loitering is banned on Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street and on North Claiborne Avenue under Interstate 10.
We respect that the pandemic has forced political leaders to make choices they could never have imagined, weighing the devastation of a health crisis against the devastation of an economic crisis.
Cantrell has done a good job protecting her city. She was bold in canceling St. Patrick’s Day activities last year — and even her critics will concede that she turned out to be right.
We disagree with those who would blame the mayor for the full array of economic pain in her city. Shutdowns have done some harm, but also some good. Moreover, it’s naive to think that New Orleans’ tourism economy would be buzzing if only the government had kept out of the way.
Those conventions of podiatrists or programmers or plumbers were still going to be canceled, destination weddings would be put off, family vacations postponed.
Visitors won’t be coming back in full force until vaccines are fully deployed and the public is confident that they worked. That's true everywhere in Louisiana.
But you can’t shut down a whole city and a whole celebration, and the likely outcome will be to move the festivities to other parts of the Quarter and the liquor-buying to other parishes. Nearby businesses and parishes need to protect their own residents by enforcing state and local health guidelines.
The enthusiasms of Mardi Gras 2020 have been blamed for New Orleans’ misfortune as an early coronavirus hot spot. And nobody wants a repeat of that in 2021, but our people have learned a lot over the past year about the disease and who is vulnerable. Throughout the year of COVID-19, large crowds have gathered, for civil rights demonstrations and Trump rallies. People have learned to make their own decisions about the perils of infection.
Our community has done a lot to reinvent Carnival in ways that are safe and socially distant. There are house floats and stationary parades and Mardi Gras for All Y’all, our online Carnival celebration that features a parade of local celebrities.
But some will want to party, and shutting down some business and some streets won’t stop them. It will chiefly harm the nearby businesses and drive customers elsewhere.