For the first time in 42 years New Orleans will not allow parades during the upcoming Carnival season, a dispiriting if not unexpected result of the ongoing restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
The decision by Mayor LaToya Cantrell to ban krewes from rolling during the 2021 Carnival, among the more significant developments in the city’s ongoing battle against the virus, came via a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on the New Orleans city government web site.
“Parades of any kind will not be permitted this year because large gatherings have proven to be super spreader events of the COVID-19 virus,” said a prepared entry on the web page.
It was confirmed on Tuesday by City Hall spokesperson Beau Tidwell.
As word spread that one of the central traditions of the Carnival season would be missing next year, local krewes, many of which had been taking part in the city’s discussion about what Mardi Gras 2021 would look like, were surprised to hear that the decision had been made.
During a press conference Tuesday, Tidwell argued that the decision by Cantrell to ban parades next year was always likely given the coronavirus restrictions in place — notably one that prohibits outdoor public gatherings of more than 250 people.
“I don’t think this should be a surprise to anyone,” Tidwell said.
Tidwell said that whatever Mardi Gras 2021 looks like, it will be a holiday that honors the tradition but is safe and follows public health guidelines.
Carnival, he said, “is not canceled, but is going to look different.”
That much krewes already suspected. But the fact that parades were definitively out came as a surprise Tuesday morning, as many had been involved with the city’s Mardi Gras advisory committee and hadn’t heard anything so definitive.
“It’s a total shock at this moment,” said Dan Kelly, president of the Krewe of Endymion, who had been fielding calls and messages Tuesday morning from other krewes surprised at the news.
Kelly had attended the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Committee meeting less than two weeks ago and “she didn’t say anything about there not being any parades.”
“Hopefully it’s a mistake,” Kelly said Tuesday morning, “because it means a lot to the city and it means a lot to the people of New Orleans.”
The early response of surprise prompted the city to post announcements to its social media accounts that “Mardi Gras is different, not cancelled.”
During an unrelated press conference Tuesday morning, Cantrell pointed to the state and city rules regarding large gatherings as all but requiring her decision.
“Based on the state guidelines in place right now, that is true,” Cantrell said in relation to the prohibition on parades. “The guidelines have to be followed as it relates to Mardi Gras 2021.”
When the press conference began at about 11:45 a.m., Tidwell stressed the city’s message.
“I don’t think that there should have been (confusion), but now there is clarity,” he said.
Asked about whether the news should gone out in the form of a press release rather than a page on the city’s website, Tidwell called that “an excellent question” and added, “to be frank with you that’s something I’d like to tighten up internally.”
He noted the language was added to the web page on Monday at 2:30 p.m.
“Could it have gone out more artfully? Absolutely,” he said.
Tidwell said the city will continue to work with local krewes to see what Mardi Gras will look like in 2021.
What does it take to kill Mardi Gras? War? Disease? Strikes? Hurricanes?
Elroy James, president of Zulu, said that, setting aside the the way word got out, the idea that parades may not be appropriate should not be a total surprise given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These are unprecedented times,” he said.
James said Cantrell has been consistent from the beginning in putting public health first, and he said the idea that Carnival season in the age of coronavirus might not include parades shouldn’t be a shock.
James said he’s waiting for clarification like everyone else, but if Mardi Gras cannot include parades this year, so be it.
“We as krewe captains and leaders in the Mardi Gras community have to put our heads together … and figure out what “different” looks like, excluding parades.”
On Monday afternoon, City Hall issued a request for community input on the nola.gov website to help solve the dilemma of how to produce the country’s biggest party during a pandemic.
According to the call for ideas, the mayor is seeking ways to prevent “unstructured crowds of strangers.”
City Hall seeks “realistic, practical” solutions that “speak to our local traditions and culture.”
Suggestions should address considerations such as “safety protocols or features” that can be “scaled up or down based on the public health guidelines in place.
That announcement pointed out that conducting Carnival 2021 may be complicated by the fact that “experts are predicting a winter spike in cases in December and January – right when our Carnival calendars get rolling.”
Last year’s Carnival season is believed to have helped accelerate the spread of the then-new COVID-19 virus.
Citizens are asked to submit a detailed proposal, including sketches or diagrams explaining their concepts, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The mayor would also like proposals for “a good ‘theme’ or name for Carnival this year.” The deadline for ideas is before midnight on Dec. 5, 2020.
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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Arthur Hardy, publisher of The Mardi Gras Guide, posted this update Monday on mardigrasguide.com.