Mar 152020
 

A crowd gathers outside Tracey’s on Magazine Street — near a sign warning against congregating on the street as the deadly coronavirus is spreading in New Orleans. (Sharon Lurye, Uptown Messenger)

By Sharon Lurye, Uptown Messenger

Police cars arrived at Tracey’s Bar on Magazine Street on Saturday to break up a crowd of more than 250 people participating in a St. Patrick’s Day bar crawl, in violation of a ban on large crowds that Gov. John Bel Edwards announced through an executive order on Friday. The size of the crowd spurred some public shaming from Mayor LaToya Cantrell on social media.

“The crowd exceeded 250 people and spilled into the streets. They were dispersed without incident,” said an New Orleans Police Department spokesperson. “The NOPD will continue to enforce the governor’s ban.”

Shortly after 6 p.m.., Cantrell posted a picture of the revelers outside Tracey’s on Facebook, writing: “This is irresponsible, potentially endangering the entire community. New Orleans just had our first fatality.”

The New Orleans Police Department said in a statement: “The NOPD is urging citizens to have consideration for the health of one another. Please, adhere to the ban on public gatherings of more than 250 people in Louisiana announced by Governor John Bel Edwards to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Groups linger on Magazine Street after the police dispersed the crowd. (Sharon Lurye, Uptown Messenger)

Jeffrey Carreras, owner of Tracey’s, said the incident was not dramatic: “We were open for business, tons of people were walking up and down Magazine Street,” he said. “They stopped here. They thought there were too many people in the street, so we dispersed.”

Carreras defended the idea of holding a pub crawl during the coronavirus pandemic. “Everybody’s panicking because the media is pushing it so hard,” he said. “We’re all grown-ups. It’s called the flu, it happens twice a year.”

However, health experts warn that coronavirus is not the same as the flu.

“Since this disease is caused by a new virus, people do not have immunity to it, and a vaccine may be many months away,” writes Dr. Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, the senior director of infection prevention at the Johns Hopkins Health System. “Doctors and scientists are working on estimating the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present, it is thought to be higher than that of most strains of the flu.”

The World Health Organization also warned that the death rate for COVID-19 appears to be over 10 times higher than the death rate for the flu, although it is difficult to know the exact rate yet because many cases have gone undetected. According to a report from March 6:

“Mortality for COVID-19 appears higher than for influenza, especially seasonal influenza. While the true mortality of COVID-19 will take some time to fully understand, the data we have so far indicate that the crude mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between 3-4%, the infection mortality rate (the number of reported deaths divided by the number of infections) will be lower. For seasonal influenza, mortality is usually well below 0.1%.”

Carreras said the bar took precautions by installing five hand sanitizer stations and regularly wiping down surfaces with bleach and water.

On Friday, the bar’s Twitter account posted: “We made light of not having r regular St Pat’s. We R taking it seriously. We r open for biz as usual We will have green beer & Jello shots for those who want to raise a glass. xtra precautions r hand sanitation stations & emergen-c in the Jello. The Everclear will do its trick 2.”

Even after the crowd was dispersed, the party went on. As the sun went down, there were still plenty of revelers dressed in green outside. Members of bachelorette parties took selfies in the street and men stumbled down the sidewalk clutching their beers.

Carreras said that it would be unrealistic to expect New Orleanians not to come out and have a good time on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, and that many other bars and restaurants were also crowded.

“It was the Half Moon, it was Tracey’s, it was Parasol’s, it was Dat Dog, it was the Rendezvous,” he said. “They were bar hopping. They were walking down Magazine, having a good time. You can’t tell people not to come out unless you have martial law.”

Cantrell has a personal reason to be upset at the spread of coronavirus. On Sunday morning, she announced that a second New Orleanian had died from the disease – and that this person was her friend.

“The news of a second death in New Orleans is deeply heartbreaking to me,” she wrote. “The patient in this instance was a friend of mine, but every one of those impacted by this outbreak is someone’s friend, someone’s loved one.”

Reporter Sharon Lurye can be reached at sharonrlurye@gmail.com.

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