NEW ORLEANS (AP) — People are out to party as New Orleans’ first full-dress Mardi Gras since 2020 dawns Tuesday, with a day of back-to-back parades through the city and masks against COVID-19 required only in indoor public spaces.
Parade routes are shorter than usual because there aren’t enough police for the standard ones, even with officers working 12-hour shifts as they always do on Mardi Gras and the end of the Carnival season leading up to it.
But with COVID-19 hospitalizations and case numbers falling worldwide and 92% of the city’s adults at least partly vaccinated, parades are back on after a season without them.
And people are out and ready to let the good times roll.
The crowd Sunday, when the huge Krewe of Bacchus paraded, “was a record for us in the 10 years we’ve been open,” said Thomas Houston, bar manager at Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar, located at the start of the truncated parade route.
He expected similar crowds on Fat Tuesday — a state holiday — if the weather is good. Not to mention Ash Wednesday, when people following the Catholic tradition of meatless Lenten fare are out for seafood.
“It’s not just a fun money-making time but you get to see people who’ve been around for 10 years,” he said.
Hotel occupancy, though, is expected to be about 66%, down about 19.5% from 2020, said Kelly Schultz, spokesperson for New Orleans & Co., the official sales and marketing organization for New Orleans’ tourism industry.
Parades were canceled last year because officials realized that tightly packed crowds in 2020 had created a superspreader event, making the city an early Southern hot spot for COVID-19.
But “2020 was weird,” Houston said, because two people were hit by floats and killed in the week leading up to Mardi Gras and the mayor suspended use of multiple floats hitched behind one tractor.
“Also the coronavirus was sort of looming over us,” even though its presence wasn’t yet known in New Orleans, Houston said.
As it has for years, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club will open Fat Tuesday with a parade that started as a mockery of white festivities, with Black float riders in blackface and grass skirts.
Next come the elaborate and fantastical floats of Rex, the self-styled king of Carnival, chosen by a group of high society, old-money businessmen.
After that are the Krewe of Elks and the Krewe of Orleans, a not-quite-endless stretch of homemade floats on long flatbed trailers.